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Support needed for heroin addicts

While it is likely that not everyone will be totally sympathetic to the difficulties faced by those with drug and alcohol issues, it should be accepted that all vulnerable individuals are entitled to expect an appropriate level of specific treatment and wider support from the authorities.

There can therefore only be considerable concern that the resources devoted by the Belfast health trust to addiction services are regarded as the lowest among all its counterparts across Northern Ireland.

The Belfast Trust has 165 heroin users on its substitute prescribing programme, but, as we reported yesterday, there are a further 44 people on a waiting list that is 18 months long.

One of the other four trusts across the north has a delay of three months before treatment can begin, but the others effectively offer immediate access to their heroin-related initiatives.

Opiate substitution programmes were established more than a decade ago to address what was becoming a growing crisis over heroin, and have been generally regarded as having a strongly positive impact.

It is completely understandable that campaigners are alarmed about the waiting lists faced by addicts who, together with their families, have in many cases been through extreme experiences long before they ever actually ask for help in the first place.

Fears have been expressed that imposing a delay of a year and a half before treatment begins will almost inevitably have fatal consequences.

Our health service is under huge pressure in a range of sectors, and the political upheaval which led to the suspension of our devolved Stormont administration has certainly not assisted in the search for solutions.

However, it is essential that the plight of drug addicts in the Belfast area, and the related social problems which affect the entire community, remains firmly under the spotlight.

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