Editor's Viewpoint: Increasing scourge of drugs on streets of Belfast not only damaging for the addicts, but also for our city's reputation
A couple suspected of being under the influence of drugs sit unconscious in a Belfast city centre building society while their child lies unheeded in its pram. Not far away, at a fast food outlet, a drug deal is believed to be taking place. Both incidents are captured on social media. Elsewhere in the city centre, discarded needles or drug wraps litter a side street.
This is not the image that Belfast wants to sell to the passengers on the cruise liners which dock frequently, or to the shoppers it wants to bring relief to high street traders, or to the night-time economy when no one wants to encounter an addict desperate for another hit.
But it is not just the reputation of the city that is being hit. There is no doubt it is, by its sheer size alone, the drugs capital of Northern Ireland, and it is the vulnerable hooked on narcotics who pay the biggest price.
Statistics show that there were 3,306 arrests here on drug-related charges in the year ended March 31 last. That figure, which has been going up constantly for more than a decade, is an indication of the growing numbers of addicts and dealers. Seizures of class A drugs such as cocaine, heroin and ecstasy are also rising inexorably, again showing the increasing quantities in circulation.
In 2017, 136 people, most of them males, died from drug-related causes. The astonishing fact is that a majority of those deaths were due to misuse of prescribed drugs, with the sedative diazepam alone accounting for 40%.
Drugs, their abuse and misuse, are a scourge on this society. Those who know say they are as easy to purchase as any ordinary household commodity. Criminal gangs make fortunes feeding the drug addiction, caring little that every deal is driving that person further into the ground and, in too many cases, closer to a premature death.
The images we show in this newspaper today are shocking, but will they result in further services for addicts, or more resources for those fighting the drugs war? Very unlikely.