The number of drug seizures in Northern Ireland has reached its highest level in a decade, it has emerged.
New figures released by the PSNI show that 5,597 incidents were recorded between April 2015 and March 2016, more than double the number of incidents recorded in the financial year 2006/07.
Meanwhile, the number of drug-related arrests is also twice as high as it was a decade ago, rocketing from 1,440 in 2005/06 to 2,953 in the last financial year.
Detective Chief Superintendent Andrea McMullan, the officer in charge of tackling drugs crime, said that while drugs seizures go up and down seasonally, they have climbed steadily year-on-year since 2006.
She also revealed the PSNI is currently targeting between 50-70 crime gangs within Northern Ireland.
These gangs can range in size, but police are specifically focusing their efforts and attention on 100–130 people linked to drugs criminality.
The profiles of these suspects include individuals from Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and European nationals. Some of these also may have a paramilitary background.
Cannabis was the most commonly recovered drug over the 12 month period, with 4,258 seizures. Cocaine accounted for the second highest number of seizures (539), followed closely by prescription drugs benzodiazepine – including diazepam – with 528 seizures.
Most of the seizures took place around Belfast, with 1,591 incidents. Over the same time period, the biggest increase in the number seizures was in the Antrim and Newtownabbey policing district, while the largest decrease was in the Armagh, Banbridge/Craigavon area.
Police say it is unclear whether the increase in seizures is due to police becoming more effective or there are more drugs in circulation.
But DCS McMullan believes there is a growing confidence in policing among communities in Northern Ireland and a stronger relationship between the two, resulting in more searches, seizures and arrests.
Police believe that due to seizures and prosecutions over the last year, drug dealers have become more cautious, for example, dealing in smaller consignments in case they get caught. This success makes Northern Ireland a less attractive business location for criminals, the PSNI has claimed.
DCS McMullan said: “Organised crime is a business, a business without integrity, being conducted to make money with no care shown towards the people who are hurt.
“Drugs are illegal because they are harmful. The Programme for Government is, in part, about improving health and wellbeing. If we are not tackling issues such as cannabis, which have a harmful effect on health and mental health, we are building a dangerous legacy around community health and welfare.”