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'Online supermarket' for drugs

There is a virtual "supermarket" for legal high drugs where abusers in Northern Ireland can access whatever they want, the head of Belfast's effort to stamp out the threat has claimed.

Some young people are binging on a range of substances and increasing the risk of death or serious harm, according to Gary McMichael, who leads the Belfast Drug and Alcohol Co-ordination Team.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has launched a fresh crack down on all drug use and has helped reduce the number of shops selling the the potentially toxic substances.

But Mr McMichael said young people were still able to obtain substances easily using the internet.

"There is a culture of a supermarket attitude towards drugs where you can get whatever you want."

He said people were adopting their drug use to suit their social environment, be it a party or at home. "There is a drug for every occasion."

Mr McMichael addressed the Belfast launch of a renewed campaign to tackle narcotics misuse.

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The Belfast Policing and Community Safety Partnership is supporting the PSNI and charity Crimestoppers to target all drugs and drug dealing across the city.

Last year the authorities secured a court judgement restricting the supply of legal highs.

In the autumn the Home Office said t wo so-called 'legal' highs linked to deaths across Europe are set to be banned.

In Northern Ireland a senior coroner compared the effects to that of a serial killer after 20 deaths were linked to psychoactive substances.

Mr McMichael said more people are binging than ever before.

"There are more drugs available now than ever before and new psychoactive substances are part of that.

"There are multiple different types of substances with different side effects which cannot be anticipated. People are using more drugs over a sustained and intensive period."

"Mixing drugs increases the risk for the user. People are also using more and more drugs which again is increasing their risk."

He said many of the deaths from legal highs last year were due to using multiple types of drugs over a weekend and mixing them with alcohol.

"We are going to see more of that because there is a culture of a supermarket attitude towards drugs where you can get whatever you want."

He said some people will come through that experience with relatively little harm but it needed to become harder to access drugs.

"The way that they are being used is creating a culture which is much more dangerous."

The expert, who has worked for years in the community tackling drug abuse, said legal highs were designed to mimic the effects of illegal drugs like ecstasy but added that until a mishap it was difficult to know exactly what they contained.

"Legislation and regulation is something that needs to happen, controls need to be put in place to make it much more difficult for those drugs to be put into the market, people should not be able to buy them through the backdoor."

He said many were buying substances through the internet.

The PSNI has warned shops in Belfast against selling legal highs and this has resulted in many stopping the trade.

Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr said this year's campaign against narcotics use followed a successful effort last year.

Over eight weeks police conducted 77 searches and made 43 seizures of cannabis. That equated to more than a search a day and a seizure every other day. A total of 31 searches produced 46 arrests.

Mr Kerr said: "We are determined to protect communities from the scourge of drugs. The squeeze is on and it will stay on."

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