Caitlin McLaughlin mural has powerful impact

There will be enormous sympathy for the family of Caitlin McLaughlin, who died at the age of 16 after taking an ecstasy tablet while attending a music festival in Belfast last summer.

She was clearly a much loved young person, as was demonstrated when a mural in her honour was unveiled close to her home in the Galliagh area of Derry on what would have been her 17th birthday last Friday.

A large attendance witnessed a balloon release close to the striking image on a gable end, and her relatives have spoken movingly of a teenager who was `loyal, outgoing and caring'.

They believe that Caitlin took an ecstasy tablet for the first time while getting a bus home after the show, and her friends initially thought that she had collapsed after going over on an ankle.

She had actually taken a heart attack, and, despite the best possible medical attention after she was taken to hospital, within a relatively short period of time she was dead.

Many young people clearly feel that ecstasy is normally harmless, and can be used without undue risk, but the tragic case of Caitlin graphically sets out the risk which exists at all times.

What is hugely disturbing is that large numbers of individuals, often connected to paramilitary groups, are plainly making enormous profits from distributing drugs across all sections of our society.

A serious case can be made for the decriminalisation of the possession of some substances including cannabis, which might in particular circumstances reduce the opportunity for unscrupulous elements to pursue their deadly trade.

If those who cynically set out to endanger our young people, purely for significant financial gain, can be brought before the courts and duly convicted, they deserve to face long prison sentences.

However, the priority must be educate all sections of society, young and old, about the threats associated with what has come to be known as the recreational use of drugs.

It will be extremely difficult for everyone who knew and loved Caitlin to see her face so publicly displayed in her home area, but it will be noted that the mural has the full agreement of her family.

If even one young person looks at it, and decides to consider the cold realities associated with drugs like ecstasy, the entire initiative can be seen to have been fully justified.