Northern Ireland’s drugs problem may not yet stand in comparison with those in much bigger countries like England or the United States, but it is growing at an uncomfortable rate and the Province’s former health minister Edwin Poots is right to describe it as “an absolute cancer in our community”.
One of the biggest concerns is the considerable rise in heroin use. While a vociferous lobby continues to advocate the legislation of cannabis for instance, there can be no disputing the dire consequences of heroin. The powerful drug is tearing lives apart all over the world. It has an impact on those who inject it, and their families, and it has knock-on consequences, including a rise in serious crime and homelessness.
Action is desperately needed and yesterday the Province’s chief medical officer, Dr Michael McBride, put forward what appeared to be a left-field solution. He believes consideration should be given to providing so-called “consumption rooms” where addicts would be able to inject under medical supervision.
His call was backed by the social justice charity Extern, which also rightly highlighted the need for better rehabilitation and residential support services in Northern Ireland.
While nothing should be ruled out at this stage, this newspaper would be much more inclined to back Mr Poots, who identifies the failure to stop the supply of drugs into Northern Ireland as the biggest single problem and the one which requires the most immediate attention.
Key to the prevention of crime is an effective deterrent and is there currently enough deterrent to those who continue to import and deal in drugs, bringing them onto the streets of Northern Ireland for our young people to misuse?
As Mr Poots says, giving the police more resources would seem a more sensible first strategy than the proposal from Dr McBride. The courts too must play their part. Longer prison sentences for dealers are a no-brainer.