Belfast Telegraph

Buying heroin in Belfast as easy as getting cigarettes, addict warns

Buying heroin in Belfast is as easy as getting cigarettes, an addict has warned.

And the number of heroin users trying to access addiction services has risen significantly in the city, the BBC has reported.

SDLP councillor Paul McCusker told the broadcaster that the heroin problem Belfast has gone "beyond an epidemic", that he believe addicts were being "forgotten about" and warned that many addicts will die if waiting lists are not shortened.

He said: "Our health trusts need to step up now and deal with this before we see more deaths."

The waiting list for heroin users in Belfast to be put on a substitute drug to wean them off the drug stands at a minimum of 29 to a maximum of 38 weeks.

The programme moves addicts from heroin to methadone in the hope they will eventually stop using heroin.

One addict called James told the BBC that if he didn't get onto the programme soon, he feared he will inject one day and "not wake up".

He also claimed that getting heroin in Belfast was "as easy as getting a packet of cigarettes and that all he had to do was "simply ring a number".

Claire Bailey MLA said: "It’s clear that the Belfast Trust doesn’t have the appropriate resources needed to meet demand for addiction support services.

“Within Northern Ireland, the Belfast Trust ranks lowest for addiction support services funding. While other Trusts are meeting waiting list targets, the Belfast Trust continues to struggle.

“I raised this matter with the Permanent Secretary for Health, Richard Pengelly, earlier this year when Mr Pengelly indicated that £30 million of Westminster confidence and supply funding would improve waiting list times. I encouraged Mr Pengelly to use some of that £30 million to tackle addiction services waiting lists.

“Since then, there has been no discernible improvement in access to addiction support services. Rather, indications are that more people are becoming addicted and opioids are more readily available across our city.

“This is a life and death situation for people addicted to opioids. Decision makers must approach drug addiction as a disease and fund the support services that can save the lives of those in the throes of addiction”.

A Belfast Health Trust spokesperson said: “There has been a rise in demand [for addiction services] over the past 2-3 years which has increased in the past 6 months.

“We received welcome additional funding to help us put additional staff in place to address need and to work more closely with our GP colleagues.

"This includes increasing our staffing levels, however because of the specialist nature of the work, securing staff with the appropriate expertise and relevant experience is challenging and providing the relevant training and induction takes time.”

“The Trust will be in position to deploy these additional staff early in the autumn. However we are concerned that if demand continues to grow our capacity to meet this level of need is limited.”

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