Spot checks on pupils as NI principal reveals Snapchat used to get ‘zombie’ drug Spice

Evidence that some young people in Portadown are using SnapChat as a platform to gain access to illegal drugs has been handed to the PSNI.

Thursday, 13th May 2021, 12:46 pm

With a 35% spike in anti-social behaviour and a glut of drugs including the ‘zombie’ drug, Spice in Portadown over the past year, calls have been made for urgent action.

Already three children in the Portadown area have taken ill due to vaping an unknown substance or other drugs in the past week.

Youth worker and Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Councillor Darryn Causby says there has been a rise in drug and alcohol issues in the town in recent years including a number of deaths. “Just a few weeks ago there was a body found at the bottom of Jervis Street.”

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Cllr Causby said the pandemic meant a lack of community workers on the ground had left a void which drug dealers had been quick to fill.

Two children fell ill in separate incidents at Craigavon Senior High School (CSHS) last week. Last weekend one young girl was taken to hospital by ambulance after a large crowd of youths gathered at Brownstown Park on Saturday. The PSNI issued an online warning about drugs soon after.

Meanwhile, the principal of CSHS Ruth Harkness, who dealt with two children falling ill after apparently vaping an unknown substance, issued a second letter to parents.

Ms Harkness said: “Following further information from the PSNI, it is evident there is a significant amount of unregulated substances (spice) being supplied in the Portadown/Craigavon/Lurgan and wider community.

“This unfortunately has found its way into Craigavon Senior High School via a small number of students who have chosen to partake in this illegal activity which the Board of Governors and I are dealing with.

“A significant amount of evidence has been shared with the PSNI including the use of ‘Snapchat’ as a platform for young people to access illegal substances. Please talk to your child about this concerning issue.

“I would ask that you be extra vigilant with your child and if you have any cause for concern, carry out spot checks on your child’s belongings regularly, especially before leaving for school each morning. Students are not permitted to bring or use any smoking devices in school or travelling to and from school, supply any banned or illegal substances or devices within school or be under the influence of substances contained in an e-cigarette or vaping device.

“In school, Pastoral staff will be undertaking spot checks (school bag/blazer) on students if there are any suspicions or concerns. Student consent will be required, however, if they fail to give consent, parents and/or the PSNI will be contacted.

“I am really proud of our school community. The work that all staff undertake each day with our young people is outstanding and the standard of work and the progress that students make in Craigavon Senior High School is exceptional.

“Our students are a great asset to this school and the wider community, however any student found not to be complying with the school’s expectations and/or standards will not be tolerated and will be dealt with very seriously.

“Thank you for your ongoing support and whilst this is a difficult time we have got to see this as an opportunity to further highlight the issues around risk taking behaviours and inform the PSNI with as much information as possible to remove this problem from the wider community of Portadown, Craigavon and Lurgan.”

DUP Cllr Darryn Causby, who is a General Secretary at YMCA, said: “There were a significant number of young people in Brownstown Park throughout Saturday.”

Some young people were spotted trying to help one of their friends out of the park. The police and ambulance were called just after 5pm on Saturday afternoon.

Cllr Causby said: “We know there have been issues with drugs and alcohol for a long time. We know we have had drugs deaths and drugs related deaths in the town in recent years. Just a few weeks ago there was a body found at the bottom of Jervis Street.

“We know the issues have been prevalent for a while but it seems to be now, particularly during Lockdown, we are picking up that it has gotten a bit worse.

“We are starting to see more effects of it than we would have before. That is definitely concerning.

“We requested information in relation to a summer youth programme we are organising, and police told us that anti-social behaviour incidents across Portadown have increased by 34.5% in the last 12 months.

“That is a substantial increase. During Lockdown there were issues in Brownstown Park with a number of occasions when police were called.

“Whatever potency is in this spice that is out there currently, it seems to be having a grave and significant impact on the people taking it. There is also heroin out there.

“We are working hard on getting young people involved in other activities and being more productive with their time than spending time on their screens or trying to find out where they can get spice.”

Cllr Causby said that Mental Health Champion Dr Siobhan O’Neill has recommended young people get access to free and positive activities for young people.

Portadown YMCA is currently catering for 212 young people but that number normally spikes in the summer holidays.

He praised the work of other youth groups across Portadown, at St Mary’s, Seagoe, Oasis, Scotch Street, the Elim Church, Edgarstown Residents Group and GoldLine. “There is an enormous amount of work going on across the board.”

He added: “The problem is that young people have not had the ability to access facilities. They have had nowhere to go. They have been crying out for that for a long time.”

Cllr Causby believes that drug dealers have taken advantage of that void in youth resources.

“What we are seeing now is absolutely the direct impact of the pandemic. We are talking about drug and alcohol issues but also we have the mental health crisis, which is why Siobhan O’Neill is so concerned and has urged in the government to invest in young people over the summer.

“The Education Authority to their credit has identified and known there is an issue with drugs and alcohol in Portadown for a while. They have funded the YMCA in Portadown to roll out a Drugs and Alcohol programme over the next 18 months. We have a worker in post and will be working in various youth clubs around the town.

“We have heard the issues about Markethill, Tandragee, Lurgan Park, the People’s Park, Brownstown Park, we know there are issues of anti-social behaviour.”

Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie described the upsurge in drugs among young people as ‘really concerning’. “These are people in our community who are selling drugs to children. They are targeting children. They don’t care what age they are. I think it is utterly reprehensible, disgusting.”

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Pupils fall ill at NI school after vaping suspected Spice Read full story here

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