Northern Ireland news

Drugs are a societal problem that will not be solved by police raids alone

PSNI carry a search of a house in the Woodvale area of Belfast looking for Illegal prescription drugs Picture by Mal McCann.

WHILE a police drugs crackdown would have at one time concentrated on the supply of ecstasy, heroin and cannabis, currently the biggest threat in Northern Ireland comes from widespread exploitation of prescription medication.

Opioids combined with other legal and illegal drugs, commonly mixed with alcohol, are the most common cause of drug-related deaths in Northern Ireland.

For the PSNI tackling the influx of prescription medication is a complicated process that involves trying to disrupt not just the supply chain, but street level distribution.

While the PSNI's Operation Pangea, resulted in multiple packages containing around 140,000 tablets being seized, it was a lengthy and complicated process involving multiple searches, not all of which produced physical seizures.

In the Woodvale area of the Shankill neighbours stood at their doors to watch as the PSNI, headed up by specialist officers from the Organised Crime Task Force searched a vacant property, thought to have been used as a postal address for prescription drugs packages posted from abroad.

The close knit, mainly elderly residents said they were shocked that a search for potentially deadly packages of drugs was taking place in their street.

Many of the counterfeit drugs are made in Asia or eastern Europe, before being posted to residential addresses in Northern Ireland.

The PSNI's drugs dog is trained to sniff out the illegal, sometimes counterfeit prescription medication as well as illegal drugs.

The house being searched on this occasion is empty, the door lock busted with glass and other debris littering the hall floor, hampering the search and indicating this property has been empty for some time.

While the Shankill would be an almost exclusively loyalist area there is no suggestion that this search is linked to paramilitaries.

Many of those selling drugs such as fentanyl, an extremely strong painkiller, or pregabalin, also known as lyrica, or 'buds', are addicts themselves.

The pills sell for as little as £10 for 20 tablets, the profit margins are small, increasing the needs for a constant uninterrupted supply.

In total 140,000 illegal and unlicensed tablets and other medicinal products were seized, including human hormone treatments, diazepam, pregabalin and the stimulant modafinil were seized as part of Operation Pangea.

However, such is the quantity of prescription drugs currently flooding the streets of Northern Ireland that the finds are just a drop in the ocean in a societal problem that will not be solved by police drug raids alone.

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Northern Ireland news