GPs 'buckling under strain of Belfast drugs epidemic
A west Belfast GP has warned that doctors' surgeries are facing extraordinary pressure due to the extent of drug abuse which has been branded an "epidemic" by a Shankill community worker.
The disturbing warnings follow a spate of drug-linked deaths this month and come just days after a Belfast mother shared a picture of her teenage son lying in a coma after misusing prescription medication.
Geordie Brown (16) was found unconscious near his home at Carolina Street, just off the Shankill Road, last Tuesday night.
Mum Jane Brown said she hoped the photograph would discourage other young people from abusing drugs.
"Please, please don't. This could end your lives," she said.
"Nobody wants that. We don't want to see another child die because of these drugs."
It is believed Geordie took Lyrica, a prescription drug normally used to treat people with epilepsy and chronic pain.
His mum warned that her son claimed it was easier to buy the pills than it was to buy cigarettes.
"It was really heartbreaking," she said.
"We just didn't know if he was going to be brain damaged or have organ failure.
"Because, these tablets, you don't know what they're doing to these kids."
Falls Road GP Michael McKenna has warned that surgeries were struggling to deal with the burden of drug abuse.
"The difficulty with the services is they are so overwhelmed that they cannot cope with the deluge of stuff that's coming in," he explained. "The money is one part of the equation, but actually, physically, the number of bodies on the ground to provide these services is also an issue."
Dr McKenna has called for a multi-agency approach.
"It can't just fall to GPs, we are already under tremendous pressures," he added.
Steven Pollock, the co-ordinator of the Greater Shankill Action for Community Transformation (ACT), warned that the problem was getting worse.
"It's becoming an epidemic. It's a massive issue amongst our young people - kids are walking about like zombies," he told the Belfast Telegraph.
"It's a problem that has been growing and growing, and with the NHS being at breaking point, it's not really helping matters."
"People are being prescribed these drugs and they don't even need them. Doctors just want them out," Mr Pollock claimed.
The community worker said the medication can be bought online and is being shipped to Northern Ireland from all over Europe.
"They are coming from Spain and other places in Europe but what people who are buying them need to realise is that they are playing Russian roulette," he warned.
Mr Pollock also said it was time for everyone to start asking why people were buying the pills and becoming addicted in the first place.
"Is it because west Belfast is an educational red zone, is it because there are no job prospects, is it because there is no development in the area and nothing to look forward to?" he asked.
"One thing is certain, though, we need feet on the ground.
"You can't understand this and come up with answers while sitting behind a desk."
He also called on the police and the criminal justice system to do more to tackle this devastating problem blighting local communities.
"The police need to take these people pushing the drugs off the streets and the courts need to do more. Suspended sentences are not good enough," he added.
The stark warning came exactly two weeks after Christopher Lavery (26) was found dead in his grandmother's Riverdale Park North home after buying pills from a man on Belfast's Dublin Road.
His was one of five sudden deaths over the same weekend in the greater Belfast area.
The deaths are suspected to have been drug-related.