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Urgent action needed on drugs scourge

After a Christmas and New Year period which saw ten drugs-related deaths in the Belfast area, a coroner has spoken out about the scourge which is claiming too many lives in our society.

Joe McCrisken urged concerted action in a bid to stop the dreadful toll of death.

He was speaking at the inquest on Thomas Gillespie (28), a north Belfast father of a young daughter who died from an overdose of cocaine and MDMA, more commonly known as ecstasy, at a house party in Tigers Bay in October 2017.

The court heard he was left on a sofa to 'sleep it off' but was later found to have died.

Mr McCrisken said the scenario outlined to the inquest was sadly not unusual and he had investigated 'far too many deaths from drugs.'

He also revealed yet another drugs death in similar circumstances had been reported before Monday's inquest.

The coroner's frustration was all too evident in his remarks. ''When is all this going to stop?'' he asked. ''When is the community going to realise we are all invested in this?''

Many people will share his sense of exasperation and alarm at what is happening, not just in Belfast but across the north.

The level of deaths from drugs of all types, including prescription medication, is profoundly worrying.

It is distressing to think that at least ten people have lost their lives to these substances in recent weeks.

Quite clearly, much more needs to be done to educate people about the very real dangers posed by even occasional drug use.

As the coroner pointed out, it is erroneous to believe that cocaine can be taken recreationally and it won't have any injurious effect.

Of course, there is valuable work being carried out by various groups and individuals to highlight the potentially lethal consequences of taking drugs.

Mr McCrisken commended William Burns, whose son Jamie died from an ecstasy overdose in 2016, and who launched the 'One Pill Can Kill' campaign.

Mr Burns has visited schools and families to educate young people on the dangers of taking drugs. This type of direct approach, allowing people to hear first hand the devastation that can be caused, is hugely important.

According to Joe Brogan, the Health and Social Care Board's head of pharmacy, there has been a four-fold increase in drugs misuse deaths in Northern Ireland over the past ten years.

Raising awareness and preventing drug use is vital but there also needs to be adequate support for those who are already addicted.

Drugs are indeed a scourge and the fact that so many people are dying tells us that urgent and effective action is needed.

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