Spike in drugs deaths shows scale of the problem in our society
The fact that five people lost their lives in Belfast over the course of one weekend as the result of suspected drugs overdoses is a tragic reflection of what is clearly a massive problem in our society.
It is profoundly disturbing that five lives were lost over a three day period within a relatively small geographical spread in the city.
And while the results of post-mortem examinations are awaited, it is suspected that heroin may have been involved in the deaths.
The youngest victim was a 19-year-old woman who died near Victoria Square while the oldest was a 48-year-old man at Waring Street. The other three fatalities were men in their twenties.
The reality is that while many of us are going about our daily lives - shopping, working or having a coffee or a meal in the city centre - there are those heading to alleyways or doorways or public toilets specifically to inject or ingest drugs.
It is a desperately sad situation and as we know, this dependency on toxic and illegal substances can have fatal consequences, destroying the lives of the users and devastating their families and friends.
The spike in deaths over the weekend of November 15-17 triggered an 'early warning system alert', led by the health service and shared with agencies including the PSNI and Department of Justice.
There is no doubt that this is a scourge that has to be tackled as part of a wide-ranging approach by a number of organisations.
The police have a key role to play in thwarting the supply of these deadly substances by arresting the dealers and shutting down the organised crime groups that exploit the vulnerable for their own gain.
Meanwhile the courts need to send out a firm message to the criminals who peddle the drugs that are causing so much misery and death.
Health agencies must also help support those in the grip of addiction.
SDLP councillor and health professional Paul McCusker says there needs to be more early intervention, easier access to harm reduction support, detox treatment and crisis response to deal with the rise in drugs use.
The recent spate of deaths should serve as a wake-up call to what is a serious and frightening issue.
Families trying to help those addicted to deadly drugs must also be able to readily access the support they need.