£75,000 of deadly drug seized in police swoop
Potentially deadly prescription drugs with an estimated value of £75,000 have been seized during a police operation in south Belfast and Comber.
A quantity of oxycodone -nicknamed 'Hillbilly heroin' -was recovered during a joint operation involving the Department of Health, Medicines Regulatory Group officials, the PSNI and the United Kingdom Border Agency.
The opiate painkiller was recovered on August 19 during searches of two houses in south Belfast and Comber.
A 31-year-old Belfast man was arrested in connection with and questioned about illegal importing activity. A report has been sent to the Public Prosecution Service.
The drug has become known in the US as 'Hillbilly heroin' because of its abuse in rural areas.
Under prescription oxycodone, a synthetic form of morphine, can be safe, but its misuse has been linked to deaths in America.
Peter Moore, medicines regulatory group senior enforcement officer with of the Department of Health, said the operation "clearly demonstrates" the determination to stop the importing of the illegal prescription drugs.
"As a result of this investigation, we have prevented illegal and dangerous prescription-only medicines reaching the streets here, where they would undoubtedly have had a real potential to cause serious harm," he said.
Mr Moore said it was "vital" the message is spread that taking unlicensed medicines from an unknown source can be dangerous.
"These types of drugs being sold, usually online, have undergone no quality control and there can be no guarantee about their safety.
"Misuse of prescription drugs can lead to abuse, addiction and other serious problems."
Mr Moore said: "The public is advised that they should steer clear of unregistered websites of unlicensed internet sellers of these types of medicines and should always seek the guidance of a doctor or healthcare professional."
Health Minister Edwin Poots said his department was committed to protecting the public from the risks associated with unlicensed, illegal and counterfeit medicines.
"These medicines, if they had managed to reach the street could have led to serious harm and it is excellent news that we have been able to successfully intervene on this occasion," he said.
"Anyone illegally importing and supplying unlicensed medicinal products such as these has no regard for the potential harm they could pose.
"I would urge the public to be vigilant and ensure that they do not put their health at risk or fund this crime by purchasing medication from an illicit source."
Oxycodone is a synthetic form of morphine, but is twice as strong, and often prescribed to cancer sufferers. The effects, addiction and chemical composition are similar to heroin. The drugs being sold, usually online, have undergone no quality control and there can be no guarantee about safety. Dealing the drug illegally is punishable by up to life imprisonment, an unlimited fine, or both.