Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Tackling prescription drug abuse essential

Prescription drugs are abused by many people (stock image)
Prescription drugs are abused by many people (stock image)

Editor's Viewpoint

Mention drug-related deaths and the assumption among the general public is that substances such as cocaine, heroin or ecstasy were involved. But there are far more deadly killers being sold on our streets in substantial quantities.

These are prescription drugs and counterfeit drugs and they are the most likely cause of death among people who abuse them.

Londonderry woman Christine Deehan knows the dangers all too well. Her 34-year-old daughter Amanda, who was addicted to prescription and counterfeit drugs, died in hospital in January and Christine fears one of her sons, similarly addicted, could also die if not treated urgently.

Amanda's death was a stereotypical case history of how drugs are destroying lives in this province. Figures from 2017 show that there were 136 drug-related deaths here, 35 of them involving females.

Some 54 were linked to abuse of diazepam, 33 to the painkiller pregbalin and 31 to tramadol. In 40 cases one drug was listed on the death certificate, while 62 listed three or more drugs.

A coroner commenting on these statistics described the abuse of prescription drugs as a "crisis" and pointed out they were responsible for many more deaths than the commonly known banned drugs.

The dangers of drug abuse are further heightened among many addicts who take prescription drugs in conjunction with alcohol and counterfeit drugs - a deadly cocktail.

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With the possibility of a no-deal Brexit curtailing the availability of prescription drugs, at least in the short-term, there is an obvious danger that addicts will seek supplies on the internet or that criminal gangs in the province will ramp up their own distribution networks.

Police recently revealed that three-quarters of criminal gangs in Belfast are already deeply involved in the supply of drugs.

So what can be done to protect life? It will take a multi-agency approach involving education, prevention, early treatment and rigorous police enforcement, but with schools, the NHS and police budgets already under huge pressure, funding a cohesive and effective strategy may be asking a lot unless a fresh injection of money is put into the economy.

As ever, the absence of a functioning devolved administration only adds to the difficulty of tackling what Christine Deehan and many others know is a deadly problem.

Belfast Telegraph

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