Northern Ireland’s top coroner has delivered a warning of the availability of killer drug heroin.
Fears the scale of the drugs problem in the province is much greater than widely believed have been expressed by John Leckey.
Mr Leckey was speaking during an inquest into the death of 26-year-old David William Walker from Belfast who died last year after taking heroin.
The coroner said he is concerned hardcore drugs are now widely available throughout the province and described the task facing police in combating drug abuse here as “major”.
He said a number of recent deaths from drugs in Northern Ireland may just be “the tip of the iceberg”.
“I think I heard the first inquest into the death from heroin toxicity in Northern Ireland.
“That death caused widespread shock that heroin had appeared in Northern Ireland society,” he said.
Mr Leckey expressed concern the use of heroin in Northern Ireland could now be considered “commonplace” due to the ease at which it can be obtained and the relatively low cost of it.
“You don’t need to be a wealthy person to obtain it,” he said.
“If what I’m told is correct it is a major issue for the PSNI.
“I wonder how widespread the problem of drug misuse in Northern Ireland is?
“Am I, as a senior coroner, dealing with the tip of the iceberg and is there a much, much wider problem than most of us think?”
Mr Walker’s father — also David — said he agreed with Mr Leckey’s comments adding more needs to be done to combat heroin abuse.
“People know who these people selling it are,” he told the Belfast Telegraph after the hearing.
“I think it’s a major problem.”
Yesterday’s inquest at the Coroner’s Court, sitting at Mays Chambers in Belfast, was told Mr Walker’s death had come as a huge shock.
His family said he had appeared to have turned his life around in the months prior to his death and had been seeking help in getting back into work and met a new girlfriend.
Mr Walker’s body was discovered last November by his father in the house at Victoria Drive in Belfast where the pair lived.
A post-mortem indicated the presence of heroin in Mr Walker’s body at the time of death. The level of the drug was described as being potentially fatal.
David Walker snr last spoke to his son the day before he discovered his body. Mr Walker was pronounced dead at the scene.
“He was on top of the world before this,” said Mr Walker snr.
“He had been getting help from Springboard (a body which works with disadvantaged young people in Belfast) and he had met his girlfriend through the scheme.”
Mr Leckey concluded: “All the indications were he had turned the corner and life was heading in a happier direction.”
Mr Leckey recorded Mr Walker’s death as a result of heroin toxicity.