Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Lethal highs are sold under many names, but a drug dealer has just one: killer

They're lethal : no matter how harmless they look, drugs like these have claimed many young lives

Para-methyl-4-methylaminorex. It is not a name that slips easily off the tongue. In the drug trade they give it labels like Speckled Cherry or Green Rolex or any one of a number of other innocuous sounding things.

Northern Ireland's Senior Coroner John Leckey calls it a serial killer. Mr Leckey, a brilliant and highly professional public servant and a man who understands how the media works will surely have known the impact that phrase was likely to have when he used it at a recent inquest. It is powerful language. No wonder it made headlines. For it is tragically accurate too.

Mr Leckey was speaking at the inquest of one of 20 young people in Northern Ireland whose deaths have been linked to the stimulant.

Twenty deaths. From something we casually describe as a "legal high".

And it is legal. In a roundabout sort of way.

Legal highs, which are not covered by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, are lab-created substances sleekitly labelled as plant food or bath salts (who uses bath salts these days?) and sold as "not fit for human consumption".

The latter description is a bit of a pointer. It's also the clever disclaimer that cutely gets round the law. It would be fair to say that duty of care to their customers does not feature highly on the list of priorities of those who make, market and push the stuff to their youthful clientele.

Speaking at yet another inquest last week, this time into the death of an 18-year-old girl, Mr Leckey called for the authorities to get tough and consider bringing manslaughter charges against suppliers.

"I acknowledge the difficulties for the police to link evidence," he said, "but I urge the PPS to consider manslaughter very much to the fore in these instances."

First, though, how to identify the suppliers? One of the major problems we face here, and we all know it, is that so much of the drugs trade is inextricably linked with paramilitaries. Even those who have knowledge of the pushers and whose consciences would urge them to do the right thing are often just too frightened to point the finger.

And, meanwhile, the horrific toll continues to mount ...

At yet another drugs death inquest this week (this time, the victim a 21-year-old man) Coroner Leckey warned that the drug involved, made to look like ecstasy and containing the aforementioned para-methyl-4-methylaminorex, was "principally a Northern Ireland problem". It has been seized in a number of other European countries, including Hungary, where it has been linked to eight deaths. But it is here in Northern Ireland that it has wreaked most havoc, created most misery.

The Coroner has previously warned that young people taking legal highs are playing Russian roulette with their lives. When you're young, though, you never believe that you're going to be the one who draws that loaded chamber.

Whether we wish to confront this truth or not, drug-taking and legal highs are part of mainstream youth culture – and "synthetic cocaine" and the likes are no more than a touch of the screen away courtesy of internet suppliers.

God knows what goes into much of this stuff. What we do know for certain is that those at the supply end of the chain are ultimately out to maximise profits. They're not in the health food market.

Overall, this toxic mix of dark science, local gangsterism, youthful naivete, brisk demand and easy supply fuels a trade that has already destroyed so many precious young lives.

There is no easy, obvious fix. But the Coroner is right. The dealers should be before the courts facing manslaughter charges.

Whatever we call their poisons, we should call them for the killers that they are.

Who'd ever leave baby alone in car?

In Swansea police officers had to use batons to smash the windows of a car in which a six-month-old baby had been spotted, basically cooking to death as outside temperatures soared to around 25C.

When the 39-year-old mother and another child returned after finishing the shopping she was given a caution for her ... well ... lack of caution in leaving a child locked in a hot car.

Here's the thing, though – never mind the hot weather, who leaves a six-month-old child on its own locked up in a car anywhere, anyway? At any time?

Nabbing fraudsters benefits all of us

In the past four years it's reported there have been somewhere in the region of 30,000 tip-off calls about welfare fraud in Northern Ireland.

Benefits cheats it seems, can no longer rely on friends and neighbours keeping schtum about them doing the double or claiming disability when there's nothing wrong with them.

This is good news not just for the local public purse but especially for genuine claimants.

For these are the people from whom the benefits cheats are really stealing. The fraudsters are pocketing money meant to target real need.

So if they're now increasingly getting their comeuppance, slap it up them.

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