Leading article

Widespread drugs problem needs to be addressed

The recent spate of tragic deaths has underlined once again the scale of the drugs problem in Northern Ireland and the terrible consequences of misusing both illegal and prescription drugs.

Five people, including a 16-year-old girl, have died suddenly in the past week with police saying that three of the deaths may have involved drugs.

However, it is only three months since the PSNI issued warnings about a number of drug-related deaths which occurred over the Christmas period.

It will also be recalled that in 2013, there were up to 20 deaths over a number of months linked to a type of Ecstasy pill which contained a substance called PMMA, prompting then senior coroner John Leckey to liken it to having a `serial killer on the loose'.

Tragically, it seems that no matter how many deaths are reported or warnings issued, young people are continuing to take drugs and put their lives at risk.

A GP is west Belfast has told how several young people contacted him following news of the latest deaths, fearful that they could take a reaction to drugs they had ingested, including one teenager who had taken up to 30 `street diazepam' at one go.

Dr Michael McKenna said patients needed a combination of detox and rehabilitation but there are currently waiting lists of three to four months for day-case treatment and nine months for the substitute prescribing service.

But he pointed out that drug users tend not to engage with healthcare services and that is an issue that needs to be addressed.

It is desperately sad to see a young life lost through substance misuse or for lives to be blighted as the result of addiction.

This dependence can also lead people into criminality as they steal to feed their habit.

There is no doubt drug use is a major issue for society and this needs to be tackled at a number of levels, including education, addiction support and a police crackdown on dealers.

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