Northern Ireland

Stormont parties meet campaigners and families to discuss Belfast drugs crisis

Pills recovered by police following an arrest in Belfast on Monday. Picture: PSNI
Pills recovered by police following an arrest in Belfast on Monday. Picture: PSNI

A cross-party meeting has taken place at Stormont to discuss the drugs crisis which has led to a rise in reported overdoses in Belfast.

Thursday's meeting was organised by the People's Kitchen organisation, which is based in north Belfast and led by founder and independent city councillor Paul McCusker.

The meeting took place as the PSNI and the north's Public Health Agency issued a warning over the dangers of users mixing drugs.

The warning follows recent reports of emergency services responding to an increase in overdoses in Belfast, including 12 suspected overdoses in a 24-hour period at the end of last month.

Speaking of Thursday's Stormont meeting, which saw families of those affected by the drugs crisis join campaigners to discuss the issue with members of the north's main political parties, Mr McCusker said they wanted to highlight the need for "better support for those experiencing addiction and homelessness".

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"The need for better access to crisis response, rehabilitation and early intervention will help to save more lives," Mr McCusker said.

"In Belfast in just six days there were 50 overdoses that the NI Ambulance Service had to respond to and services are working under extreme demand trying to keep individuals alive every day.

"All political parties in Northern Ireland now need to deal with this crisis, as we cannot sit back and allow more people to die."

Meanwhile, PSNI Superintendent Amanda Ford said: “We are aware of recent media speculation regarding an alleged ‘bad batch’ of illegal drugs within Belfast. All illegal drugs are unlicensed and unregulated, meaning the component parts and strength of each pill can vary even within a batch.

"No drugs are safe and it is often the mix of several pills and/or substances which results in unimaginable damage and an increased risk of overdose and death of the user. As such, our focus is not limited to any one drug.

Superintendent Ford said 17 PSNI officers are authorised to administer Naloxone, which can reverse the effects of some drugs in overdose cases, while another 60 officers have recently completed Naloxone training.

"Belfast city centre officers have now administered Naloxone to 25 people following a suspected overdose of illicit drugs," she said.

"We are working closely with partners to come up with more innovative long-term solutions to help build safer communities and tackle this problem, by taking a strong partnership approach with relevant key stakeholders. It is not, of course, a problem unique to Belfast or Northern Ireland and we will continue to work with partner agencies and other forces, including An Garda Síochána and forces throughout Great Britain, to target suppliers and supply lines, and to identify trends which guide our focus.

The Public Health Agency's Kevin Bailey said: "The risk of overdose increases when you mix any drugs. Most fatal overdoses involve the use of more than one type of drug, and any combination of prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs, illicit drugs and alcohol can be dangerous."