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GP receives increased calls from drug users following sudden deaths

Dr Michael McKenna has warned of the increasing numbers of young people abusing 'street diazepam'

A WEST Belfast GP has revealed a spike in calls from patients fearing they will die from illegal drug use after the sudden deaths of five people in Belfast.

Dr Michael McKenna has been contacted by several young people including a teenager who had taken up to 30 'blues' or 'street Diazepam' at once.

Five people, including a 16-year-old girl, have died suddenly since the weekend with police saying three of the cases may have involved drugs.

The doctor, who is based in the mid-Falls area, said one of his patients was among those who died suddenly in the city on Monday.

He raised concerns about difficulties in trying to access the right services for those with addiction problems due to lengthy waiting lists following a big increase in abuse of prescription drugs.

"Once the word was out about the deaths, call starting coming through on Tuesday from young people in their early twenties as well as a teenager. They were fearful about a potential reaction to the drugs they were taking," he said.

"Many of these young people take 10 or more tablets of Diazepam they have bought on the street but this can go up to 30 at one time. Problems arise when they mix these pills with alcohol or other prescription medication such as Tramadol or Lyrica, which is usually the case.

"It is virtually impossible for these patients to treat themselves so normally you need a combination of detox and rehabilitation care. There are currently waiting lists of three to four months for day case treatment and nine months for the substitute prescribing service - but once the appointment comes through the person may have changed their mind given the 'bad batch' scare is over.

"Invariably you end up referring the patient to A&E but they are extremely limited in what they can do and it is rare they will admit the person to a hospital bed. They normally make a referral to mental health or community addictions team. ..there is huge frustration across the system about the demand."

There are no dedicated inpatient detox beds in the Belfast trust following the axing of the Shaftesbury Square facility more than seven years ago, while the regional 12 treatment beds located in Downpatrick are almost permanently filled.

Dr McKenna said he had one patient with a heroin addiction who had been admitted to hospital on 20 occasions in a year - including a general ward, intensive care and A&E – due to lack of services.

"The current service is struggling a little - and needs to be more reactive. You're dealing with a group of people who tend to disengage with services more than engage and we need a plan to move forward."

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