Fianna Fáil Spokesperson for National Drugs Strategy, Jack Chambers TD has said that the number of youth drug offences exposes the growing popularity of coercing and exploiting children and teenagers to push drugs in communities across the country.

Information published under the Freedom of Information Act indicates that 912 juveniles appeared before the courts for drug related offences from January 2014 up to May of this year. The data which was provided by the Courts Service shows that almost 170 defendants under the age of 18, faced drug related offences in court during the first five months of this year.

Commenting on the figures the Dublin West based TD said, “Children and teenagers are becoming increasingly exposed to the drugs trade whether through personal use or intent to supply. From my engagement with those working on the front-line in drug treatment services, it is known that some Irish children are dabbling in drugs from as young as 10.

“Furthermore, members of organised crime gangs are targeting vulnerable youth to handle drugs, knowing that they are less likely to attract suspicion and takes away the risk of getting caught with supplies themselves.

“Young people are being forced into and then trapped in the drug industry by lucrative offers of quick cash payment for supplying and dealing.

He added, “We must dispel the myth that issues regarding young people and drugs are confined to urban areas in Ireland; it spans every small town and village nationwide.

“Children are getting caught with quantities of Class A drugs including heroin and cocaine; however, research carried out by the Ballymun Youth Action Project earlier this month highlighted the significant level of cannabis use among young early school leavers in their community.

“The general perception is that cannabis is a recreational substance that is rarely associated with problem drug use, but the reality is that this drug can cause significant levels of harm.

“Education must be central to the response required to deal with this problem. While individual schools can set their own standard in relation to the education of drugs, it is crucial that the Department adopt a comprehensive cross-curricular programme for educating school goers about the issues associated with drug use and supply.

“We must teach our younger generation about the adverse effects of a criminal conviction for drug offences on a person’s future prospects including employability and travel.

“Children engaging in drug use or associated crime are at a far greater risk of graduating into adult criminality and the Government must be urged to take more precaution to put a stop to this cycle.

Chambers concluded, “There is no silver bullet to immediately tackle these numbers but there are measures that can be introduced on a long-term basis.”