Athlone District Court Judge Seamus Hughes has warned of the serious damage being caused by heroin in this area and called for tough action to be taken against the 'drug lords' who supply it.
"There is a trail of destruction being left behind by drug dealers," commented Judge Hughes during a case involving an 18-year-old heroin addict at the district court on Wednesday last.
"It is heartbreaking to see people like this young man in court. I fear dearly for the lives of these young people.
"The toughest possible action needs to be taken against the 'drug lords' who are supplying heroin in this town. They should be hounded out of the place."
Garda Inspector Aidan Minnock said he agreed fully with the judge's remarks.
Another case last Wednesday involved a 26-year-old woman who is on a methadone treatment programme but is continuing to take heroin. During this case, the judge said he had noticed an increase in the number of females coming before him with serious drug problems.
"Regrettably, I'm seeing more girls coming in here to court. Physically, you deteriorate so much after taking heroin. You develop twitches and become emaciated - and that's just one aspect of it. It has such an adverse physical impact on your body," he told the defendant.
The first case mentioned above concerned Ian Greene (18) of 5 Marine View, Athlone, who stole St Tropez fake tan and Rimmel makeup from Coleman's Pharmacy in Athlone on July 21 last in order to pay a drug debt.
In response to questioning from Judge Hughes, Mr Greene said he had owed 75 to a female, who asked him to get the fake tan and makeup for her.
When Judge Hughes asked him if he was still taking drugs, Mr Greene said he was.
"You are very honest. What drugs do you like to take?" asked the judge.
"I don't 'like' to take much, but I am a heroin addict," said Mr Greene, who added that he was attempting to get a place on a methadone treatment programme.
Judge Hughes remarked that Mr Greene appeared to be a very nice young man and it was "heartbreaking" to see people like him develop a drug habit. The judge remanded him on bail to December 21, when a probation report is due to be handed in to the court.
"I want to see progress by December," Judge Hughes told him. "Talk to people in the probation service - ask for their advice and take it." A curfew from 8pm to 8am was also imposed by the court.
The judge commented on seeing an increase in the number of females with drug problems during the case of Sarah Johnson (24) of Dolanstown, Ballydangan, Athlone.
Ms Johnson was charged with possessing heroin at Northgate Street, Athlone, on July 8, 2010.
A probation report which was handed into the court last April indicated that she was making relatively good progress.
An updated report was given to the judge last week but unfortunately this report was less positive.
"The best I can say is that she hasn't come to any further Garda notice, but she has had some difficulties in dealing with her afflictions," said Ms Johnson's solicitor, Padraig Quinn.
"There has been a slip, and the report today is not as good as the one that came before the court in April. She is back on the methadone programme but is continuing to misuse heroin."
Judge Hughes then asked Ms Johnson a number of questions about her drug habit.
"How much would you have spent on heroin in the last two weeks?" he asked. She said she had spent 100.
"Are you a bad addict?" he asked.
"Not as bad as I was," she said.
"Where do you take heroin? Do you smoke it?"
"Yeah. Probably in a friend's house."
"And what does it do for you? Why do you take it?"
"I take it to get stoned," she said.
"But why heroin? Why don't you get a bottle of vodka and get stoned on that?" wondered Judge Hughes.
It was at this point the judge commented on the increase he had seen in serious drug abuse by females, and the severe physical impact which it was having on them.
He asked Ms Johnson if she had ever been to prison, and she replied that she had not. The judge warned her to "get on top of your situation" or prison is where she would be headed.
He adjourned the case until March 7 and requested that an updated probation report be prepared for that date.