Belfast's public toilets get needle 'drop-offs' in wake of growing drugs menace
Belfast is so awash with drugs that every council-owned public toilet is set to have a needle drop-off.
Sharps boxes are being introduced to allow drug users to safely dispose of needles.
A sharps box has been installed at the Winetavern Street convenience and they will be installed at the rest of the council's 12 public toilet facilities over the next year.
The People and Communities Committee heard last month that there has been an increase in anti-social behaviour at the council's public toilets over recent years, particularly at the Automatic Public Convenience (APC), and an increase in the prevalence of drug-related material discarded or deposited in the units.
"Following this increase in sharps finds (syringes), the council has liaised with their contracted service providers and other public bodies on an ongoing basis to take measures to counteract this behaviour," the committee heard.
All of the council's APCs - with the exception of Hope Street - have been fitted with sharps boxes to allow a safe disposal of needles.
"This initiative was taken by the service to safeguard the public, as well as council and contractor staff," the committee was told.
"Further measures have been installed in these units to deter the use of illegal drugs. Most drug advisory charities give guidance to users on the disposal unit at the public toilets and this appears to be working well," it was added.
The council is now moving to install sharps boxes in the council's standard (non-fee paying) public toilets. This work is expected to be completed throughout the 2017/18 financial year.
However the Hope Street facility may be removed. It was the focus of a UTV report in January, highlighting a find of drug paraphernalia.
The committee heard that due to this toilet's older design, it is unable to accommodate a sharps box.
Members approved the proposals and that decision was ratified at a meeting of the full council on Tuesday evening.
There has been a increase in the use of drugs across Northern Ireland.
Last year the Public Health Agency (PHA) revealed its Needle Exchange Programme saw a surge in visits in four years from 7,500 to just under 15,000.
There are some 18 needle-exchange facilities across Northern Ireland with plans to open three more early next year.
The PHA said 922 patients received substitute prescribing treatment in 2015/16 - a 7% increase on the previous year. Of these patients, 43% were prescribed Buprenorphone and 42% were given Methadone.
The Sunday Life reported last month that Fountain Street in Belfast has been nicknamed 'Needle Street' due to a high level of drug usage.
Sinn Fein councillor Mary McConville, whose son Francis died after taking drugs two years ago, recently called for the council to do more to tackle drug use in Belfast.
Mrs McConville said everyone needs to work together to tackle the "current abuse of hard drugs, including heroin, close to the city centre".
"This problem requires more than a policing response," she said.
"We need improved rehabilitation services for users and better social care. We also need greater education programmes for our young people to help eradicate drug misuse. Council also has a responsibility for community safety."
If you think you might have a problem with alcohol and/or drugs or have concerns about a loved one and need help visit www.drugs andalcoholni.info for information on support services near you