Northern Ireland news

Heroin use increase 'train wreck' waiting to happen

Staff in a Belfast premises alerted police after becoming concerned for the welfare of the baby.
By Michael McHugh, Press Association

THE number of people taken to hospital with heroin poisoning has increased significantly in Northern Ireland, with Belfast recording the highest number admissions.

The information was obtained by SDLP East Derry Assembly member John Dallat following a Freedom of Information request. He said the figures represented a "train wreck" waiting to happen.

In 2015/16, there were a total of 61 cases but by 2017/18, that had risen to 79, figures have revealed.

West Belfast GP Michael McKenna said: "It (heroin) is becoming more prevalent so it is easier to obtain."

The Royal Victoria and Mater hospitals in Belfast admitted the greatest numbers. Antrim Area Hospital also recorded admissions.

Mr Dallat added: "The increase in heroin addiction cases is most worrying and represents a train wreck coming down the tracks with no return for many of those diagnosed with this deadly addiction.

"Based on my own inquiries, I understand this deadly business is being conducted by ruthless people with no regard for anyone and motivated only by creating addiction among people who may already be on drugs.

"If this pattern is to continue there is every reason to believe all health trusts will experience an increase in admissions for heroin sufferers while the situation in the Belfast area will, undoubtedly, become much more serious as the availability of this poisonous substance reaches more and more vulnerable people."

Dr McKenna, whose practice is based on the Falls Road in west Belfast, said many users also ended up homeless because their lives were chaotic.

"Ultimately they become pariahs and they are cast out by family and friends."

"If you find how to fill that gap then you are part way to answering your heroin problem."

Michael Owen, the Public Health Agency's drug and alcohol lead, said: "Drug misuse is sadly an all-too-common issue.

"The reasons for people taking drugs are complex and varied, and drug misuse can affect anyone.

"Whilst heroin and other opiates are used by a small proportion of the population, the risks for those misusing the drug are significant, both in the short term and long term.

"The primary risk factors when using drugs include taking too much of a substance; taking a substance over an extended period of time or 'bingeing'; mixing drugs with other drugs and/or alcohol; and, using drugs on your own.

"The PHA would strongly advise that the only way to avoid all risks is to not take any drugs which have not been prescribed for you by your doctor."

A spokesman for Health & Social Care Board said it was working closely with other bodies to develop and enhance access to a range of alcohol and drug related specialist support services.

Meanwhile, a couple arrested by police last Tuesday after a baby was abandoned beside an unconscious man and woman at a Belfast city centre premises, have been released on police bail.

A photograph of the couple, believed to be the baby's parents, was widely circulated on social media. The image, published in the Belfast Telegraph, showed the pair slumped in their chairs with a pram beside them.

Concerned staff raised the alarm and a 31-year-old man and a 39-year-old woman, were taken away by police. The pair were arrested on suspicion of child cruelty and possession of a class B drug. Police said the baby was "being cared for by the relevant agency".

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