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Belfast families affected by drugs beg health trust for help

The Belfast trust’s Substitute Prescribing Team (SPT) prescribes medications such as methadone and Subutex as replacement drugs to wean users of opiates, mainly heroin

A GROUP of Belfast families affected by drug addiction have penned a letter to the health trust pleading for help to get their loved ones off drugs.

Belfast Families for Equal Healthcare Treatment (BFEHT) is made up of more than a dozen families from across the city who have relatives facing opiate addiction, mainly heroin.

The Belfast trust’s Substitute Prescribing Team (SPT) prescribes medications such as methadone and Subutex as replacement drugs to wean users off opiates.

From January 2013 to September 2016, a total of 297 patients were referred to the SPT for treatment.

However there are currently dozens of people on the waiting list to receive medication as the programme is facing staffing issues.

One woman said her brother had been waiting more than 18 months for treatment.

"How much longer to we have to go through this? How many more people have to die before people take notice?" she said.

In the letter to the Belfast health trust, nearly a dozen affected families spoke of their "outrage" that their loved ones have been on the waiting list for so long.

"Our family members had the courage to seek help from your organisation and that help has not been forthcoming," they wrote.

"We are watching our sons, daughters, brothers and sisters deteriorate in front of our eyes every day.

"We go to bed every night, wondering whether or not tonight is the night that they will suffer a fatal overdose. Will tonight be the night they die?"

The latest figures available from January up to September 2016 show that 65 users were signed up to the service for help with opiate misuse - 10 per cent more than the total for the whole of 2014.

However, the members of BFEHT said that in a meeting with senior members of the trust last week they were told that in the last six months the scheme has been under such pressure that only one new patient has started treatment.

In a statement the Belfast trust said senior managers from the trust's mental health team had met with families and "listened to their concerns regarding the time delay" for treatment.

"The trust representatives recognised the concerns of these families, offered an apology for the waiting times for the Substitute Prescribing Team and also explained their position and what they have been doing to improve on waiting times," the spokesman said.

Meanwhile, in a letter seen by The Irish News, the permanent secretary for the Department of Health, Richard Pengelly, said they are "very aware" of the waiting list problem and are working to resolve "specific issues that have arisen in the Belfast area".

"The Belfast trust has informed me they have internally reallocated staff to the Substitute Prescribing Service as an interim measure, and is in the process of recruiting additional staff to address the issue in the longer term," he wrote.

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