Leading article

Leading article: Heroin problem must be confronted

The number of patients being seen for heroin overdoses in Belfast A&E departments has rocketed

IT IS alarming to discover that a leading consultant in Belfast believes that the best that she can hope to achieve is to relieve the suffering of people addicted to heroin rather than winning the battle to help those people stop using the drug. However it is difficult to argue with her conclusion when considering the facts she lists in support of her assertion.

For instance she points to a huge increase in the numbers of people presenting at accident and emergency rooms seeking help with all sorts of health issues related to their heroin abuse. This she says has seen the numbers go up from one a year to almost one every day in Belfast.

Those people are looking for relief from pain of for instance abscesses on feet because addicts are injecting between toes.

Equally surprising is the spread of heroin use throughout society. The consultant points out that not every user is young and wearing a track suit. The oldest person addicted who she has treated was a 67-year-old man who starting using the drug 'because he was bored'. In 2012 the reversal drug prescribed was used five times. Last year that number had rocketed to around 200.

When one considers the poor state of the national health service it is hard to see how money is going to be found to reverse the trend of increasing drug use, making the consultant's statement that we will not beat heroin look like a carefully considered assertion and hard to argue with.

That is not to say that society should not attempt to fight back. Education has long been seen as key to this objective. Helping young people understand that they are undoubtedly putting their lives at risk by taking drugs has to be a good thing.

Tackling and shutting down the supply lines of all sorts of illegal substances must of course remain a top priority for the police. But a far more effective strategy would be to cut down the numbers of people willing to risk their lives this way.

While politicians in England bandy about huge sums of money that they are promising to put into the under pressure NHS, it is to be hoped that enough of those funds will be made available to health trusts in Northern Ireland to tackle and reduce what is becoming a huge drain on resources.

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Leading article