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Dublin's new drug dealers: 'I never thought I would be doing this'

  1. Terrapinzflyer
    A heroin drought has created a new market in prescription sleeping tablets, bringing novice female dealers on to the streets

    In her grey hooded jacket, gold hooped earrings and dyed black hair, grandmother Sandra* stands out among the young emaciated heroin addicts in central Dublin.

    Across the road from the Abbey theatre, a group of young men knock back brown medicine bottles of "phi", a mix of liquid methadone.

    One of them, a young bearded man in a Dublin Gaelic football team track top, comes forward hobbling on a crutch. A heroin drought in the city has left him desperate for drugs to help him sleep. Money is exchanged and Sandra hands over a blister pack of tablets.

    A growing army of female traders is operating in the Irish capital, dealing in unlicensed painkillers and sleeping tablets smuggled in from the developing world. With 9,500 registered heroin users across Ireland, drugs experts warn that the problem is likely to grow, fuelled by a recession that has led many otherwise ordinary people to become dealers.

    Pescription drug Zopiclone, a sleeping pill, for sale on the boardwalk alongside the river Liffey in Dublin. Many women are selling pescription drugs to pay off debts and cover household expenses. Photograph: Kim Haughton for the Guardian

    "Do you really think I want to be standing here every day selling these tablets to the addicts?" asks Sandra. "I have never taken drugs in my life and I never thought I would ever be doing this."

    But she has debts to pay, she says. Her son Sean died of an overdose and she is still paying off the cost of his funeral.

    There are estimated to be hundreds of dealers operating on the streets of central Dublin, earning up to €500 (£437) a week. According to campaigners helping addicts, it is women who are the backbone of the business.

    A group of Japanese tourists take photographs of each other outside the Abbey theatre, where the likes of Sean O'Casey and JM Synge first saw their works performed. Sandra watches cautiously as an unmarked garda detective car passes by.

    Derek Butler is a customer. He produces a paper chemist bag containing a phial full of prescription sleeping tablets and explains why couriers such as Sandra are doing a brisk trade.

    "The doctor will only prescribe this amount to me for the entire week but I will go through this bag in one single night. I am HIV positive and have three ulcers on my leg. I can't sleep, especially if there is no brown [street slang for heroin] about in Dublin. These tabs help me get through the week."

    Butler says the drugs leave him comatose for up to 15 hours if he takes enough of them.

    The female couriers involved in the business are a mix of addicts needing to fund their habit and women who are in debt to loan sharks or simply seeking extra money for Christmas.

    Mandy comes into central Dublin every day to meet other addicts on the boardwalk that runs alongside the river Liffey. Within seconds of her arrival a young woman in her early 20s pops her head over the wall and asks whether there is any heroin around.

    Mandy, who has been on heroin for 20 years, says the tablets her friends sell are not technically illegal, but they can still be arrested and prosecuted.

    "The only thing we can be done for is not having a license to trade in the street," Mandy says, as a rival dealer strolls by with two men pushing babies in prams.

    "It isn't just addicts feeding the habit, but girls who are in debt and even grannies. If you are not feeding your habit you can make up to €500 per week from the business," Mandy says as she rolls a spliff on a bench overlooking the Liffey.

    Levels of heroin addiction have reached a historic high in the Irish Republic, and some addicts are the grandchildren of the first wave of people who got hooked on the drug when it arrived in the country during the early 1980s.

    The Merchant's Quay Project, a charity that works with addicts and the homeless, says it deals with about 9,500 heroin users in 11 of the republic's counties. Tony Geoghegan, its chief executive, stresses that the figure is probably far higher and likely to climb further due to rising unemployment and poverty resulting from the recession.

    Geoghegan says staff have noticed a vast increase in the sale of drugs such as Zimovane (sleeping tablets, known on the streets as "zimmos") from Pakistan and China. Merchant's Quay Project wants to have the smuggled drugs tested because it fears the tablets may be doing as much harm as illegal narcotics.

    "While there is a heroin drought in Dublin, currently these other tablets are as common as Smarties. Obviously there is a concern about what exactly is in these legal drugs. They are not tested by the department of health. We are going to have to get our hands on some of these tablets and get them analysed because they are being sold in huge quantities. And this trade is going to get even bigger as the recession bites," Geoghegan says.

    The head of one of Ireland's busiest treatment centre for drug addicts gives two reasons for the emergence of this latest trade. "The recession is pushing people who would have little or no dealings with addicts into this business. It is poverty, pure and simple. And the market is growing for these tablets because of the drought in heroin at present," he says.

    Back at her pitch across from the Abbey theatre, Sandra agrees with that prediction. "I can get €200 (£175) a week selling the zimmos and that is far more than I can get on the social welfare," she says.

    "I'm doing it this week to buy a second-hand fridge while I'm still paying off the funeral debt. There is going to be a whole lot more women like me doing this ... it's going to get worse in Ireland before it gets better."

    * Names of dealers and their clients have been changed to protect their identities

    Dublin's illegal trade in sleeping tablets and painkillers

    • €20 (£17) can buy 10 tablets.

    • The two most popular drugs are Zopiclone and Zimovane.

    • The drugs, which are highly powerful painkillers and sleeping tablets, are used to help addicts sleep and numb pain, especially during heroin "droughts".

    • The tablets are smuggled from Pakistan and China via Europe. Some are re-packaged in countries such as Croatia and Germany.

    • Sellers can earn up to €500 euros per week.

    Henry McDonald in Dublin
    Thursday 28 October 2010 14.22 BST



  1. Finn Mac Cool
    Zipiclone is a drug that I've grew up with, parents took them every night, now some of my siblings take them, sometimes 5 a day. You can purchase boxes of them from certain places, use them for a few weeks, and you're hooked. Hence the growth in usage, certainly going to be a bigger problem in the future.
  2. malsat
    LMAO the amount of empty zimovane blisters and boxes you see walking around the city centre, it's flipping ridiculous.
  3. kailey_elise
    Aren't zimovane & zopiclone the same thing?

    Why does the article keep referring to "painkillers & sleeping pills", then "zimovane & zopiclone" as though they are separate things?

    Does anyone know what the "painkillers" they are referring to (but not explicitly mentioning) are? Or are they just talking about, like, OTC codeine preparations?

    ~Kailey, slightly confused (like that's something new!)
  4. missparkles
    Correct, Zimovane and Zopiclone are in fact the same thing. They're both Z-drugs given short term, for insomnia.

  5. Smeg
    This article appears to be unusually "sexed-up" for The Guardian. This newspaper IMHO has a fairly decent reputation when it comes to authentic and accurate reporting without tabloid frills.
    Shame really.
  6. Moving Pictures
    Okay, are we really supposed to believe this shit (Lunesta in the US) is replacing heroin? Come on! This drug is not "fun" for the majority of people who take it. Not to mention it causes a horrible metalic taste in your mouth for the duration of the effects, at least in swim's case. I mean, if heroin isn't around, it seems more likely that otc codeine would be selling like crazy, not zopliclone. Maybe it's a popular drug of abuse in Ireland but it certainly isn't replacing heroin. Also, not being rude here, but the Irish are kinda known for their boozing. Alcohol seems like a far more pleaurable buzz than Lunesta if you can't score dope.

    Just my thoughts.

    It is not a painkiller. Zopliclone is a nonbenzodiazepine sedative.
  7. ianzombie
    The quotes mentioned it was being sold to heroin addicts who are faced with a drought as a means to help them sleep, not as a replacement.
  8. missparkles
    Sorry, but there is NO way in WD that 20 of these Z-drugs would make a dent in insomnia, no way. And the article does appear to be saying the first drug is a painkiller, the second a sleeper. And yes, in the UK OTC codeine would be the first choice, although there's very rarely a (heroin) drought that lasts long enough to necessitate this. Also, the same place people are obtaining these Z-drugs would also supply diazepam, which would be of more use in WD AND provide a bigger profit margin.

  9. Euphoric
    So much irony here...
  10. kailey_elise
    Not even that they are "both Z-drugs", they are the SAME EXACT THING; Zimovane is a brand name for zopiclone!

    In other news, does anyone else find the word "zopiclone" funny? It makes me think of a clown. ZoppyClown! Nevermind...

    Well, MAYBE 20 of them, if the addict in question doesn't normally take benzos or something. I know Girlie, who didn't really take benzos when she was doing Heroin, would get by reasonably okay in detox programs with clonidine & Librium (a benzo). Then again, she was locked in a place where she couldn't get any Heroin, which might have made it a fuckton easier... ;)

    Also, is there something about Irish law, which would make the penalties less for getting caught selling zopiclone vs diazepam? Perhaps that's part of it?

    This article just seems strange, never have I seen a Z-drug referred to as a "painkiller". ??

  11. malsat
    ^^I believe it was mentioned in the article that zopiclone is not controlled here and hence dealers would only face, in theory, punishment for street trading without a license.

    To sparkles: actually, based on street prices and what I have seen of online prices, zopiclone has the higher profit margin.
  12. EscapeDummy

    Swim thinks that has to be a mistake on the journalists part. Swim can't see these drugs viewed as painkillers but they certainly have analgesic (or whatever is Greek for "not-giving-a-fuck") effects. Swim remembers the first time he ever took zolpidem, he was completely caught off guard by the bnezo/alcohol-like decrease in coordination it brings. He was running up the stairs to his friends dorm room, and actually fell twice, quite hard, banging his shins or knees on the concrete steps each time. He just got up and kept going like nothing happened, but he had some nasty bruises to deal with later. Of course, it's really nothing different than, and probably not even as effective as drinking half a fifth of liquor. Swim can't see it ever being used primarily as a painkiller.

    Not to mention, they don't even induce sleep, just facilitate it if one tries to sleep. So a person with poor self control and willpower like swim just stayed up, acting kind of loopy, possibly re-dosing while under the influence; fuck Z-drugs, what a shitty class of chemicals.
  13. Terrapinzflyer
    Regarding the mysteriously mentioned but absent painkiller - my first thought on reading this was that someone had agreed to talk to the journalist, and probably mentioned painkillers, but the only drug they would admit to/ let the journalist see was the zoplicone which is semi-legal. (presumably the painkiller would actually be illegal)

    Of course- I have absolutely no evidence of this- just my initial feeling based on nothing more then peoples tendency towards self-preservation and not fully trusting outsiders with info about more serious crimes.
  14. kailey_elise
    I was just curious if someone knew exactly what that meant, and what the penalties might be.

    Also, re-reading the article, they *do* mention someone drinking methadone at the very beginning, perhaps that's the "painkiller", but I doubt it; the bottom of the article really seems to refer to tablets & such.

    Is methadone free for basically anyone who might need it in Ireland?

  15. Alchemical
    Yes, once a doctor or clinic is satisfied you are opiate dependent it is freely available.
  16. rapax
    zopiclone IS a controlled substance in europe. possession and sale without a prescription does carry penal risks. now im not exactly sure in dublin, but everywhere else its a POM (prescpription only medication) so yeah, its "technically" illegal. she just probably meant its not an "illegal drug" compared to heroin, wich has no medical use, but in the end i guess its just a matter of perception by un-aware junkies.
  17. mickey_bee
    In the UK heroin is prescribed for severe or terminal pain patients, and to the fortunate few addicts who are f**ked up enough to get it.

  18. EscapeDummy
    Whats the dosage on the OTC codeine in the UK? And how much APAP does it have?

    Here in the US, we're immature little boys and girls so mr. government decided we don't get tylenol 3's or whatnot.
  19. Alchemical
    ^Ireland is not part of the UK. :)
    To answer your question the maximum OTC dosage is 12.8mg codeine and it must be combined with an NSAID (paracetamol/ibuprofen/aspirin).
  20. EscapeDummy

    Oops. Definitely knew that, just knew a bunch of the posters on this topic are from the UK. 12.8mg, thats a pretty low dosage, not really abusable with APAP. However you can CWE it right? If you CWE 20-30 of those it should be legit for a few days or something.
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