Organised crime gangs destroying lives through drugs
A senior PSNI officer has confirmed what many have long known, that paramilitary groups have largely abandoned any pretence of ideology and have moved firmly into the world of organised crime.
Latest figures show there are currently 90 organised crime gangs being monitored by police in Northern Ireland, 35 of them based in Belfast.
Some of these gangs are comprised of small numbers, with around 25 per cent having some kind of 'paramilitary ancestry' while a further 15 per cent have overseas links, mainly with China and eastern Europe.
According to Chief Superintendent Bobby Singleton, head of the PSNI Organised Crime Unit, 75 per cent of gangs operating in the greater Belfast area are involved in drugs.
A special feature in yesterday's Irish News showed both the scale of the drugs problem, particularly in north Belfast, and the cynical exploitation of vulnerable young people by groups which suck them further into a life of addiction, debt and crime.
We are well aware of the enormous damage being caused mainly by prescription drugs, which are cheap and easily obtained.
As nurse and Belfast City councillor Paul McCusker points out, tranquilisers such as diazepam and lorazepam are freely available and linked to an an increasing number of deaths.
The young age of those getting hooked on these substances, which also include Xanax and benzos, is quite shocking.
Mr McCusker said the youngest person he has dealt with who is using drugs is a ten-year-old.
That is frankly appalling and an indication of the enormous challenge facing those trying to eradicate drug use in north Belfast and beyond.
People also need a reality check about the malign activities of the criminal gangs, including those with paramilitary associations in loyalist and republican districts.
It suits them to have young people hooked on drugs, in their debt and ultimately dragged into criminality.
And when that young person ends up in prison, or has their life destroyed through drugs, the crime bosses will simply move on to their next victim.