Warning after Odyssey chaos: Wake up to drugs threat putting your child at risk - parents told
All parents are being warned they can no longer be complacent about the risks which drugs present to every child in Northern Ireland.
A leading doctor has said it is time to sit down and have a serious discussion with young people, as experts warn substance abuse is now infecting every part of society.
A quick internet search and a phone call provide an easy gateway to class A drugs such as cocaine and ecstasy, while so-called legal highs are available for sale over the counter at a growing number of shops.
The issue came back under the spotlight after 108 young people needed medical treatment for the effects of alcohol and drugs after falling ill at a concert.
Children as young as 14 took ill while attending the gig by Dutch artist DJ Hardwell at the Odyssey Arena on Thursday night.
People at the concert claimed drug use was widespread.
Experts said the incident must serve as a wake-up call to parents across Northern Ireland.
Dr George O'Neill, a GP with 40 years' experience, urged parents to be alert to the threat that drugs – including alcohol – pose to young people.
"It is time for every parent to have an open discussion with their children and point out the dangers and risks of drug abuse," he said.
"No one is immune to this – we all have families and all are at risk. It is a discussion too many people are avoiding." Dr O'Neill, who is chairman of Addiction NI, said it was wrong to say drug abuse was a problem which only affected poor or lower-class families.
"Drug abuse is a universal problem. No one can say they are not affected by it – no one," he added.
"What we need to do is educate our young people as to the dangers and the risks, and have an open discussion about it.
"We tend to have a knee-jerk reaction after incidents such as the Odyssey, but this is happening every weekend.
"Take a walk up the Dublin Road in Belfast on a Saturday night, go to any of our towns and you will see this."
Dr O'Neill said that included advising young people on alcohol, which he warned was abused just as badly as street drugs.
Alex Bunting from the Forum For Action On Substance Abuse agreed.
He said: "It is an issue right across society, it goes across all social and economic levels. However, we can't just point the finger at young people, many of whom are following in the footsteps of the adult generation."
Pip Jaffa from charity Parenting NI said the chaos at the Odyssey was a warning to every family in Northern Ireland.
"What happened on Thursday night was absolutely dreadful, but it opens the way for parents to really look at this as a real possibility that their teenager could be involved in drug misuse," she said.
"Drugs are accessible to youngsters – everywhere they turn they can avail of drugs, and parents need to take that on board.
"It is not the case (that drugs only affect lower-class families) – certainly we are not finding that. No family is excluded because drugs are available and they are accessible."
She said the internet was a factor in the growing accessibility of drugs.
The problem is now so widespread that class A substances including heroin and cocaine are being openly traded online.
Drug pushers in Belfast are using one internet forum to advertise their products while users list their requirements. Some pushers are posting their mobile phone numbers so people can arrange deals.