Thursday, 15 September 2011
Prescription drugs present biggest problem
A group of former heroin addicts, who work to help get addicts off the streets, said this week that while heroin is a problem in Cork, prescribed medication is the biggest problem gripping the city.
The Assistant Director of Victory Outreach, located on Clontarf Street, told the Cork Independent that their drop-in centre and outreach programme sees more people addicted to prescribed drugs than heroin, as they are getting the drugs “for free”.
“Yes, there is a heroin problem in the city but there is a bigger prescribed drugs problem that nobody talks about,” said 25 year old Philip Lynch, a former heroin addict originally from Dublin city.
His brother, Pastor Martin Lynch, who is also a former addict, started the drop-in centre for the homeless and drug addicted in the city, as well as a residential rehabilitation centre in Watergrasshill.
“Drug addicts on the streets and in estates are getting prescribed drugs from their doctors. This is making the problem harder to fix. The temptation is too strong for people because these drugs are free,” said Philip.
Prescriptions carry a nominal charge of €0.50 for people who are entitled to a medical card.
Philip moved to Cork from Dublin, where many members of his family had heroin problems, in 2009 and gave up drugs with the help of the Victory Outreach Christian church based on Clontarf Street. Philip’s sister Carol, also a previous addict, is opening another centre in Dublin with her husband.
He said: “Estates in Cork are torn apart from drugs. It’s not just in one area or one estate. And the biggest problem is not heroin. It’s prescribed tablets.”
“I have seen an increase in heroin addicts on the street and they’re all young. You’d never see an old heroin addict – they never survive that long.”
Women are now increasingly among the heroin addicts begging in the city and calling to the drop-in centre.
“We have nowhere for them because the only women’s centre we have is in Dublin. People don’t want to leave children, which is why we are trying to raise money for a centre in Cork, just for women,” he said.
Polish native, Marek Auguscik (37), came to Ireland in 2005. He was already addicted to drugs when he arrived to Dublin and lost his job. When that happened, he headed for Cork with a phone number and 27 cent after he’d paid his fare. Having got no reply to the phone number, he found himself homeless.
“I had nothing from the first day in Cork and was homeless for nine months and was in a really bad way.”
After spending time in a County Cork rehabilitation centre, he returned to the streets with a cross-addiction to cocaine, crack cocaine and alcohol.
“Finding drugs wasn’t a problem and I was in and out of prison and hospital. I was smoking heroin, drinking and taking tablets. After a while, you just take everything that you can get your hands on.”
Marek often begged and was picked up by Victory Outreach outside the Simon Community centre on January 3 2010, during the big freeze.
“I was found lying on the ground, freezing and close to death. I don’t remember it because I was full of tablets. The boys saved my life,” he said.
They wrapped him in tinfoil, dropped a Victory Outreach leaflet in his pocket, called an ambulance and took him to the hospital.
“I had a great start to life. I graduated from school and qualified as a chef. But it was my choice to be what I became. From the first drink, I never stopped. I went deeper and deeper but later I knew I was addicted. It still didn’t stop me.
“I went through madness. I would have died. I didn’t look for help. It had to be God.”
It doesn’t matter that they smell of urine and are sitting in rags on the paving of Grand Parade. The boys of Victory Outreach sit in the gutter with them with the hope of saving one addict at a time, writes Christine Allen
On Tuesday and Friday nights, a group of former heroin addicts hit Cork City with nothing more than their own powerful stories, humility and a handful of subtle leaflets.
They don’t have a uniform. They don’t have a budget. They have one message.
“This does not have to be you. Change your life and get victory over addiction.”
The church-based group all believe that their lives have been changed by the intervention of former addicts and the power of God.
In a week where dissident republicans have offered solutions to the drugs problem, these men are offering something entirely different and reaching people, one addict at a time, each their own walking testimony to the fact that their system works.
There is no mystery to how it works. The leaflets spell out that “the recovery home aims to reclaim, redeem and restore lives that have been destroyed or disrupted by drugs, alcohol and/or substance abuse by establishing three essential values. A commitment to Christ, restoration of the family and a positive work ethic.”
Tallaght native, Philip Lynch, hit rock bottom in Spain, where he lived for 14 years after his mother took him out of Dublin to avoid the same fate as his two brothers and his sisters, who were all addicted to heroin at one stage.
Now 25, he has been clean for two years and works as the assistant director at Victory Outreach on Clontarf Street, a drop-in centre for addicts and homeless people, and hits the streets at every opportunity.
He is joined by Marek Auguscik (37), Justin Waters (27), Tipperary and Daniel Maher (23), Letterkenny, recovering addicts and residents of the Watergrasshill centre. Church member, Peter Alabi (20), also comes along to help.
Philip’s brother, also a former addict, Pastor Martin Lynch, is the founder and director of the centre in Cork, while his sister Carol, who previously had her own problems with heroin, is opening another centre in Dublin with her husband.
“I have another brother, but he’s been on methadone for 13 years.”
Philip hit his low point when he was 23 years old. His mother had moved with him from Tallaght to Spain, to protect him from the same fate that befell his two brothers and sister.
“The lowest point was robbing my friends and family. I had an apartment but it was more like a squat. I took cocaine, crack, ecstasy and was a big drinker. I was just a party boy.
“I had no water to wash myself. And in Spain, there is no social welfare like here. If you’re on your own, you’re on your own. I sold drugs to feed my habit but mostly stole from tourists’ houses.” He now helps addicts to get clean.
“The biggest obstacle for them is fear. Fear of sickness. But heroin withdrawal could take two to three days and I have yet to hear of someone dying during this process.”
The heroin problem is not just on the streets. The recovering and former addicts head out “evangelising”, stopping to talk to addicts and alcoholics and telling them about their free services, which saved Philip from his own addictions.
“We go fundraising for our women’s centre and evangelising in the estates too and recently met a mother in Knocknaheeny that invited us in to talk to her son, a heroin addict. He wanted help so much but was so afraid of the sickness. Families are broken and in desperation.”
We come across two Polish men on Grand Parade. They smell of urine and are unwashed, wearing ragged clothes. However, they beam a smile at the five boys as we approach. Suddenly, they are deep in conversation with Marek.
He and Philip sit down with the men, who are roughly in their 50s. It’s hard to tell their age through the dirt. The boys stand up, embrace the two men warmly, without fear, and we move on.
Philip explains that addicts are often on Oliver Plunkett Street, Bishop Lucey Park and Grand Parade. “Anywhere where they can go tapping, or robbing. There are lots of women on the streets too.”
As we talk, we come to a boy begging on Paul Street. Marek tells me he is Latvian and in his early twenties. “You can see the heroin and the pain in his eyes.”
Marek speaks to the boy, who sits on the ground outside a restaurant eating a cheese sandwich.
He becomes agitated and tells the team from Victory Outreach to go away. The boy has seen a man on the street to whom he owes money.
They have come to know the personal circumstances of many heroin addicts and hope that some will visit for help. For more information about Victory Outreach, contact 021-4279476 or 085-1251111 or visit www.victoryoutreachcork.ie.(Has been hacked)
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