Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Drugs crisis can be ignored no longer

Those concerned at the level of drug addiction feel much more could be done to address the problem
Those concerned at the level of drug addiction feel much more could be done to address the problem

Editor's Viewpoint

It is not overstating the case to acknowledge that Northern Ireland is facing a drugs abuse epidemic. Every indicator shows an increased use of both illegal and prescription drugs - both of which are deadly if abused - and services are struggling to provide even basic assistance to those in need.

The deaths of two sisters in west Belfast in the last three weeks - one is being buried today - are a shocking reminder of how drug addiction can devastate a family.

The women were aged 28 and 30 and between them leave nine young children without mothers.

The youngest child is only seven months old.

Their two remaining sisters are desperately grasping for any explanation, but feel that the lack of adequate services to treat addicts made the tragic outcome for their family almost inevitable.

One of the sisters was a heroin addict and services to wean addicts off the drug through the use of methadone only kick in after a minimum of 29 weeks from referral. That can be too long.

Even the most cursory glance through the internet shows the desperate need for improved addiction services.

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In 2017, 136 deaths were drug related - 80% due to the abuse of drugs - compared to 80 a decade earlier.

The number of deaths was more than double the number of people who were killed on the roads.

Those concerned at the level of drug addiction feel much more could be done to address the problem, which the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust last year admitted it was struggling to cope with as demand for services grows.

The family of the two sisters who have died so tragically - the other one was addicted to prescription drugs and both had underlying mental health problems as well - have made a heartfelt plea for action to be taken.

The lack of a functioning Executive, as ever, exacerbates the problem, as there is no political drive to implement health strategies which could make a difference.

The problem is not simply lack of money for services but the shortage of people on the ground to provide those services.

Social conditions also play a huge part.

People living in the most deprived areas are four times more likely to die from a drug related problem than those living in the least deprived areas.

We need to take a holistic approach to the problem - and urgently.

Belfast Telegraph

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