Three held as spike in drug deaths is probed
Three people have been arrested in connection with a string of sudden deaths which are feared to be drugs-related.
The victims, aged in their 20s and 30s, died suddenly within the past four weeks – seven in Belfast and one in Coleraine.
Police are investigating possible drugs links to the fatalities with the three people arrested questioned by police regarding the supply of illegal substances.
Investigators yesterday said they had not determined any connections between those arrested, and said preliminary tests on the victims did not appear to show any evidence a particular lethal drug was involved.
All three of those arrested have been released pending further inquiries. The full results from the forensic tests will be known within the coming weeks.
PSNI Detective Chief Superintendent Roy McComb said: "There is no consistent individual drug that we are finding linking any of these deaths, no single bad pill out there killing people."
Police have also repeated their warning about ecstasy tablets laced with a bulking chemical which can prove even more deadly. A recent batch seized in Northern Ireland contained potentially deadly 'green Rolexes'.
The pills can be up the five times stronger than ecstasy and are available for as little as £2.50 each. Mr McComb said mixing such drugs with alcohol was akin to playing "Russian roulette" and issued a stark warning about some prescription drugs like anti-depressants or tranquillisers which he said kill three times more people – often in their late 30s – than heroin or ecstasy.
Police yesterday said there are currently 150 organised crime gangs in operation in Northern Ireland, 100 of which are involved in the drugs trade.
A percentage are affiliated to paramilitaries, and police confirmed there was evidence of illegal loyalist and republican organisations co-operating in the distribution of drugs.
Last week Chief Constable Matt Baggott warned Northern Ireland could be viewed as a soft target for organised criminals if the National Crime Agency (NCA) is not allowed to operate fully here.
Yesterday Mr McComb reiterated that call, saying the NCA's input would play a significant part in the police's ability to curb the importation of illegal substances into the province.
Police also warned that dealers in so-called legal highs were exploiting differences in the law between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland and unhindered travel between the jurisdictions to peddle their potentially lethal wares.
Senior PSNI officers again refuted allegations they were turning a blind eye to dealers, who some have claimed are allowed to operate without police disruption in return for passing on information to the force.