Belfast Telegraph

Mental health service buckling, forum on NI drug problems told

By Chris McCullough

A former drug addict says the mental health service in Northern Ireland is at "breaking point".

Stephen Patterson (48), from east Belfast, was addicted to drugs for 17 years and has been recovering for the last 10 years.

He is now an active member of Belfast Experts By Experience (BEBE), a service-to-service user group set up by individuals who have experience of addictions.

Mr Patterson was speaking at a meeting in Belfast City Hall yesterday, set up to look at addressing the increasing problems associated with drugs.

Attendees at the meeting, which was chaired by SDLP councillor Paul McCusker, heard from the PSNI, the Housing Executive, local councillors, youth workers, and other bodies on how drug-related incidents are on the rise.

Mr Patterson told the group that getting access to the proper help needed by drug users was the biggest challenge young people face today.

He said: "We are here today to address this problem of young people taking drugs, some of whom are as young as 12 or 13. It is great to be able to address the people here today on what is happening in the communities.

"More young people are taking their own lives these days due to drugs.

"These people could be simply experimenting with drugs or inexperienced users.

"And it's not just the hard drugs I am talking about. Prescription drugs are a major problem as well.

"In my case, and from what I can see today, the help is there for those that need it. The problem, however, for the drug addicts is accessing that help."

Those at the meeting agreed help was available for drug users, and that communities played a big part in educating young people about drugs, and in some cases prevention as well.

However, dual diagnosis was becoming a real issue, as was access to help for mental health issues. Mr Patterson commented: "Mental health issues are becoming a real concern these days but our mental health service is at breaking point.

"People are being passed from pillar to post and are subsequently being put on huge waiting lists. Some even get overlooked."

Mr McCusker said: "Our goal for all these bodies was to see if the system is fit for purpose.

"We want to hear from all angles and highlight the problems within the system, and I think we have accomplished that today."

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