Belfast Telegraph

Children as young as 12 taking drugs in west Belfast says new report

By Andrew Madden, Local Democracy Reporter

There will never be fundamental change in west Belfast’s drug problem without addressing the poverty and conflict legacies affecting it, a new report has found.

Launched on Monday, the West Belfast Community Drugs Panel’s report examined all aspects of drugs misuse in the area and provided a series of recommendations.

The panel was set up in October last year in reaction to a spate of drug-related deaths in the west of the city and is made up of representatives from several government departments, including the Belfast Trust and the Public Health Agency.

Families in the area affected by drugs, including bereaved parents, were also invited to give their views through community representatives on the panel, which was chaired by Noel Rooney, former head of the Probation Board for NI.

Funding for the report was provided by the Belfast Policing and Community Safety Partnership, which is made up of councillors and representatives from statutory agencies.

The report found significant issues relating to drugs misuse in west Belfast, many related to chronic under-funding by successive governments and the lack of a coherent, multi-agency strategy to deal with the problem.

It also identified significant contributing factors relating to the area’s social housing provision.

Several of the root causes detailed in the report, however, are generational and systemic.

“The West Belfast drugs issue is directly related to the area being affected by systemic poverty and the legacy of the NI Conflict and, unfortunately, this looks set to worsen over time,” the report reads.

“There will never be a fundamental change for west Belfast without addressing the poverty and conflict legacies.”

Elsewhere, the panel found addiction to prescription medications to be disproportionately high in the area.

“Evidence shows the level of prescribing medication in west Belfast is higher than in most other parts of Belfast, the north of Ireland and Great Britain,” the document states.

The report recommends several measures that public agencies could take to try and tackle the problem, including:

- An anti-poverty plan aligned with appropriate, long-term funding (10-15 year minimum)

- A multi-layered education strategy with a focus on early intervention

- A co-designed pilot social housing model, specifically for the area

- A zero-tolerance drugs policy from the PSNI, with a stronger focus on small level dealing

In addition, the report includes a ‘What We Heard’ section summarising key information providing to the panel by members of the public, community representatives and others.

“Criminal gangs, some claiming to have paramilitary connections, are controlling the supply of cocaine and heroin in some streets to children as young as 12-years-old,” the report reads.

“They decide what to provide and how much it will cost local people.”

Prescription medications being reported as being currently misused in west Belfast include: Tramadol, an opiate-based painkiller, and Fentanyl, a tranquiliser 100 times stronger than heroin.

It is now in the hands of government agencies to decide which, if any, of the report’s recommendations they might adopt.

Belfast Telegraph Digital

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