Belfast Telegraph

Minister may ban legal high shops after drug deaths

By Anna Maguire

Head shops that specialise in the sale of legal highs could be banned by the Health Minister.

The move follows the sudden deaths of eight young people, two of them thought to have been caused by fake ecstasy tablets stamped with a crown symbol and known as 'green Rolexes'.

Edwin Poots said police told him two people died after taking the same pills, which Scottish officers suspect caused seven deaths there.

The tablets – which are thought to contain the dangerous stimulant para-Methoxyamphetamine, known as PMA – are five times stronger than ecstasy but slower to take effect, which can lead to users taking more.

Speaking after a meeting with the PSNI and community groups yesterday, the DUP minister said police believed the vast majority of the deaths were drugs-related.

Citing 110 drugs-related deaths in Northern Ireland last year, he said he planned to write to the Home Office calling for legislation to ban head shops, which sell legal drugs and paraphernalia.

Prescription drugs caused two-thirds of last year's drugs-related fatalities, with illegal drugs claimed a third. Police believe there are up to 15 head shops here, according to the minister, but community groups insist the figure is significantly higher.

Mr Poots said: "We are looking at 110 drugs-related deaths here last year.

"That's nine deaths every month as a result of drugs, on average.

"So eight last month is not something that is unusual.

"I think the public will be shocked that there were 110 deaths here last year as a result of drugs. That's more people than were dying in the latter years of the Troubles. To me it's an appalling figure.

"During the Troubles you heard about deaths and you thought that could not be right, having people dying on the streets like that.

"Yet, here we are 20 years later in a so-called modern society, and this is happening under the radar.

"Why should it be acceptable that we have parasites in our community killing our communities? We need to get these people out of the community.".

Mr Poots pledged to press the Home Office for a ban similar to that brought in by the Irish government three years ago.

He added: "They did that in the Republic of Ireland and it had a big impact.

"People can still go to the internet, but this would make a difference. Drugs are illegal here but for many people they are acceptable.

"They are cheap, they are readily available – there is not an understanding of the dangers because of the new ones coming out so quickly."

A spokeswoman for the PSNI said it was still too early to make "firm determinations" about the causes of the eight recent fatalities.

BACKGROUND

Officers in Scotland suspect seven drug-related deaths are linked to so-called 'green Rolex' pills – the same fake ecstasy tablets being investigated in Northern Ireland. The two forces have been liaising since the PSNI started probing eight sudden deaths in the past four weeks in Belfast and the north west, a majority of which were related to drugs. Police are also investigating if an overdose killed Neil Reeves, a father-of-one in his 20s who died at his east Belfast home on Sunday.

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