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“He put me in a bin and tried to kill me”: We need to talk about cocaine-induced psychosis and violent crime

Last week, Jack McGowan spoke publicly about the absolute terror inflicted on his elderly mother who was repeatedly punched, kicked, beaten and thrown into a bin by a man who was, the court heard, in the grip of drug and alcohol induced psychosis.

Marie Mac Gowan was 86 years old at the time of the attack, and it was reported that, while she suffered from early onset dementia, she was able to live independently and enjoyed socialising with her friends.

She had moved to Dublin from Co Meath so that she could live in sheltered accommodation in Ranelagh close to her her family. One night on 31st August last year, she had woken up at 1am, but with the confusion that can be common with dementia, she left her home to go to the shop.

Her attacker, Alex Bailey, who had being taken both cocaine and alcohol, came upon her at that late hour outside an ice cream shop in Ranelagh.

Marie’s son, Jack MacGowan, first saw what happened next on CCTV footage in the court in April of this year.

“If you look at the video, there’s a lot of kicking, Mum’s on the ground on the kerb, he runs and kicks her underneath the rib cage and he put his foot on her mouth, then he picked her up and threw her head first into the bin. You can see the bin opening and her hand coming out and then he would just slam it down,” he later told reporters.

RTE News said that when the bin fell over, Bailey “punched and kicked Ms MacGowan as she tried to get out of it”.

The description of the violence meted out to Marie MacGowan is absolutely sickening. How could anyone subject another person, especially an elderly, fragile, beloved mother to such a sustained and brutal attack?

Her son said that Mrs MacGowan was a retired farmer who had worked until she was 70 and was doing very well until the assault.

But the attack had left her “terrified” – and Jack MacGowan said that when he first saw his mother she kept saying “he put me in a bin and he tried to kill me”.

“For a month, she did not talk about anything else. She then started shaking, I had not seen that physical shaking before. She would shake like that for hours,” he said.

He added that if it had not been for three students who went to his mother’s aid, there might have been an even worse outcome.

Thank God for those students, but it is an appalling thing to think that an elderly woman could be so brutalised in a Dublin suburb after a chance encounter with someone whose actions were spurred on his decision to take enough cocaine and drink enough alcohol to put him into a violent psychotic state.

‘A warning about the dangers of taking cocaine’

Jack MacGowan also made a statement that didn’t get enough attention when he talked about what happened to his mother serving “as a warning about the dangers of taking cocaine”.

It’s something that we don’t talk about often enough – the role drug-induced psychosis plays in extremely violent crime, and how drug intake seems to sometimes induce a kind of vicious madness that results in truly shocking acts of violence.

It’s easy to presume such cocaine-fueled violence is confined to gangland feuds, but the shocking case of Marie MacGowan and many others seem to indicate that as cocaine use increases so does the potential for horrifying consequences for innocent bystanders.

Aaron Connolly, the Co Louth man who was sentenced for the murder of 18-year-old Cameron Reilly in 2022, told gardaí that he had taken a combination of cocaine and MDMA that made him blackout the night of the killing. He strangled the teenager to death in a field.

Urantsetseg Tserendorj was tragically stabbed to death in 2020 while walking on Custom House Quay in Dublin by a14-year-old who was drunk and had been abusing drugs since he was twelve. He had been weaned off heroin at birth.

There are many other such shocking cases arising all-too-frequently in reports from the criminal courts – while several of the most disturbing recent high-profile murder cases yet to come to trial are also said to have involved cocaine use.

A man who beat and sexually assaulted his girlfriend then smashed up her furniture and defecated on her bed was a habitual abuser of alcohol and drugs, a court was told.

The murder of a pregnant woman by her boyfriend in an “exceptionally brutal” attack occurred while he had cocaine, cannabis and alcohol in his system.

In one very disturbing case before the courts this year, a man who orally raped his 6 year-old daughter said that he had drug addiction issues and used cannabis, cocaine and LSD.

He also claimed that he did not take full responsibility for his actions as he claimed “not to recall these events due to his drugs use”.

The judge dismissed that claim. He was right to do so.

Drug-induced psychotic episodes happen because that person decided to take something that then became a factor in their carrying out vile and often deeply disturbing actions. The responsibility for that decision – and for any outcomes of same – ultimately lies with themselves.

Drug addiction is complex, and factors like deprivation and dysfunctional families can lead to destructive patterns that are extremely difficult to overcome.

But the sheer savagery of cocaine-induced attacks can’t be excused away.

Some judges seem to take a different view. In 2021, Conor Dreelan from Darndale was jailed after he stabbed his mother and step-father during a cocaine-induced psychotic episode.

In Dreelan’s case, Mr Justice Michael White said he was entitled to “a lesser sentence due to his temporary psychotic condition”.

That could be considered to set a dangerous precedent, unless it can be argued that those taking cocaine are unaware of what the drug might induce.

The real question might be whether they care. Then again, social and cultural trends matter too, and the current culture sometimes seems to be more concerned with being seen to be conventional or prohibitive than with the possibility that extreme and almost inhuman violence can be produced by cocaine intake.

One rehabilitation centre warns that “cocaine addiction not only brings various physical and mental health risks, but an increase in violent tendencies.”

“Many cocaine users are prone to becoming anxious, agitated, aggressive, paranoid (known as ‘cocaine paranoia’) or carrying out violent behaviour.”

“Research indicates that the rage and violence associated with cocaine use is down to its effect on neurotransmitters in the pleasure centres of the brain. Studies also show that cocaine abuse causes changes in levels of norepinephrine and serotonin. This interference with organic bodily chemicals, which act as neurotransmitters to the brain, leads to aggressive behaviour, hyperactivity, impaired judgement and paranoia.”

They also claimed that “in fact, the connection to violence starts with the first use of cocaine, as the drug’s effects can significantly impact mood and behaviour.”

Dr. Chris Luke, Adjunct Senior Lecturer in Public Health in University College Cork, told the Examiner in 2020 that cocaine use is synonymous with “grotesque violence”.

“The bottom line is cocaine is almost synonymous with grotesque violence, the sort of violence you see in movies and TV series like Narcos,” he said.

He warned that the drug can have particularly horrific consequences if it is taken by sociopaths or psychopaths – and that cocaine was the drug “most linked to shocking levels of violence”.

Yet, a report in March of this year from the United Nations showed Irish people are the joint-fourth highest consumers of cocaine globally per capita – and statistics from the Gardai show a spike in killings, thefts, sex assaults, and domestic violence in 2022.

Dr Luke said he was “absolutely convinced” that “the most important thing in the drug debate is to screen for drug use in people who have been involved in severe violence, particularly murder”

“I think it would reveal an astonishing level of connection,” he said. It’s long past time we started taking that connection more seriously.

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