Sudden deaths could be drug-related: PSNI

Detective Superintendent Bobby Singleton. Pic by Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press
Detective Superintendent Bobby Singleton. Pic by Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press

The use of illicit drugs along with prescription medication may have been a factor in the deaths of a number of people in Belfast over the Christmas period, police have said.

That is one line of inquiry being considered by officers investigating four sudden deaths, which are believed to have occurred in the north and west of the city over the past two weeks.

While police haven’t released any information about the victims, it is believed they were all aged in their late teens and 20s.

“The loss of a loved one is devastating for a family whatever the time of year but especially over the holiday period and our thoughts are first and foremost with those affected by these tragic deaths,” said detective superintendent Bobby Singleton.

“While the cause of death is not definitively known in any of the four deaths in Belfast, the use of illicit drugs along with prescription drugs may be a factor. The vast majority of drug related deaths in Northern Ireland occur when someone has taken more than one substance including alcohol.”

Reports that a batch of Xanax – a drug used in the management of anxiety disorders – with a higher strength than would usually be prescribed is being sold on the streets of Belfast is causing concern amongst some healthcare professionals.

“The Public Health Agency (PHA) frequently issues alerts about the dangers of drugs to those who work closest with those affected by drug and alcohol misuse, through the Drug and Alcohol Monitoring and Information System (DAMIS). This has included warnings about the dangers associated with use of Xanax,” Det Supt Singleton continued.

Appealing to the public to help police combat the problem of drug dealing, he stressed that the PSNI is “committed to restricting the availability of illicit drugs in our communities” and have had “significant success throughout 2018.”

“The reality however is that as long as there is demand there will be drugs on our streets. That’s why we also work very closely with the Department of Health and Public Health Agency to co-ordinate harm reduction activity,” he added.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said it would not be appropriate to comment on the matter until the police conclude their investigations.

Anyone with information about incidents where drug use has led to adverse effects on the user, and where that information could be shared to help reduce the risks to others, is asked to contact damis@hscni.net

• The PHA funds a number of services designed to support people who use drugs to reduce their risks and also help them to access other support services or treatment. The contact details for these services are:

Belfast area (Belfast Drug Outreach Team) 028 9504 7301

Northern area (Extern) 028 2565 4012

Southern area (Extern) 074 2343 2110

South Eastern area (Simon Community) 074 3575 4307/074 3575 4302

Western area:

Londonderry area (Depaul) 028 7136 5259

Fermanagh and Omagh areas (Arc Healthy Living Centre) 028 6862 8741

Limavady area (First Housing Aid and Support Services) 028 7137 1849