Addressing the serious problem of prescription drugs misuse
The tragic deaths of a number of young people in the Belfast area over the holiday period have once again placed the spotlight on the huge problem of drug misuse in our society.
The PSNI has confirmed it is investigating at least four deaths but the figure is thought to be higher.
Detective Superintendent Bobby Singleton said that while the cause of death is not definitively known in the cases under investigation, ''the use of illicit drugs along with prescription drugs may be a factor.''
It is believed those who lost their lives are aged in their late teens to late twenties.
They are heartbreakingly young and their untimely deaths will bring tremendous pain and grief to their relatives and friends.
Unfortunately, we have seen too many people lose their lives to the scourge of drugs.
Clearly, the increasing availability and misuse of prescription medication is a growing concern for the police and health professionals.
SDLP councillor Paul McCusker, who is a nurse at the Mater Hospital in north Belfast, has provided an insight into the challenges faced by frontline healthcare staff over the Christmas period.
He said there had been an increase in emergency admissions for overdoses, with children as young as 13 using the drug Lyrica, which is commonly prescribed to treat fibromyalgia, and Xanax, used to treat anxiety disorders.
Joe Brogan, the Health and Social Care Board's head of pharmacy, told the BBC that over the past ten years there has been a fourfold increase in drugs misuse deaths in Northern Ireland.
Some people may believe that because a drug is available on prescription it is safe, but that is definitely not the case.
These drugs can and do kill and that is the message that needs to get across.
Of course, there needs to be firm action against the dealers but there is a wider issue with regard to educating our young people and providing support for those in the grip of addiction.