TEN-year-old children are among a city's heroin addicts, a priest has claimed.
Criminal gangs are threatening the childrens' families over drug debts, Fr Joe Young said.
Fr Young, formerly a parish priest of Southill in Limerick, said many devastated parents across the city and county have contacted him about heroin-addicted children.
A chaplain with the Brothers of Charity in Bawnmore, Fr Young said children were being introduced to heroin by "drug barons, the guys in the Costa del Sol who are using these children as drug mules".
Limerick, he said, was in denial about the extent of the problem.
"This addiction is a life sentence for the addict, their families and also society.
"But I feel we as a city are in absolute total denial about the extent of heroin use in Limerick," he said.
Many of the families are grossly in debt due to their childrens' addictions and sometimes their lives are threatened by the drug dealers.
"This is one of the greatest epidemics in our country and city. It is extremely upsetting to see what's happening," Fr Young said.
"You have to compliment the gardai for their work but they cannot solve it on their own."
He was "delighted" the work of the Criminal Assets Bureau was doing in tackling "the big guys -- the guys who aren't getting their hands dirty but are using children (to carry drugs)."
He has been campaigning for a halfway house for recovering heroin addicts near Limerick, but funds have yet to become available.
While he does not have the money to purchase a property for such use, he has "the enthusiasm and heartfelt feeling that people would support me anonymously," he said.
His comments follow those of Superintendent Frank O'Brien of Henry Street Garda Station in Limerick who revealed the number of drug addicts in Limerick has shot up in recent years to nearly 600 from "almost zero" four years ago.
Supt O'Brien said the gardai are aware of substance abuse by younger children, but generally drug addicts begin using heroin at a later age.
While all drug offences are up in the city, heroin is the most predominant drug at present, he said.
Supt O'Brien said 2006 was a "watershed year" regarding the use of heroin becoming visible in the city and it has been on the rise ever since.
Extra gardai have been deployed on drugs duties in units at Roxboro and Mayorstone Garda Stations in the city, to back up the drugs squad based at Henry Street station.