Four teenagers overdosed on prescription drugs at the weekend, prompting a plea for parents to keep pills under lock and key.
Coordinator and chairperson of PIPS Larne Carlee Letson revealed the shocking news as part of a heartfelt plea to parents to keep an eye on their children’s activities.
A girl in her early teens was transferred to the Royal Victoria Hospital for medical attention, and PIPS Larne also assisted two boys in their mid-teens and a 17-year-old youth over the weekend.
Carlee told the Times that prescription drugs consumption amongst local young people had increased since the closure of Dunluce Street “head shop” Northern Lights, with youngsters now using prescription pills as “legal highs”.
She revealed: “The number of people we are seeing for prescription drug addiction has increased 10-fold over the past 18 months and we are now treating 23 people.”
Carlee added: “We thought that once the Dunluce Street shop closed things would get better, but instead young people have switched to prescription medication, which has side-effects like suicidal thoughts.”
Carlee spoke of assisting “collapsed” youngsters and teenagers, completely unaware of where they are and who is around them.
“It’s really, really frightening in terms of their safety,” she said. “I could have been anyone.”
Carlee believes that some young people are stealing money from their parents to buy prescription drugs illegally, while others are stealing the medication.
She is urging parents to be vigilant for tell-tale signs in their children’s behaviour. “Changes in mood, aggression, being tired all the time, out all the time or not studying; watch for changes in their natural behaviour,” she advised.
“These kids are supposed to be our future, but they are being destroyed by these drugs. I don’t know where they are getting them, if there are people dealing them, or if the kids feel they have to take them due to peer pressure, but prescription drugs can be lethal.”
Carlee said PIPS Larne is doing its best to help address the issue, but needs the support of parents to beat the scourge of prescription drugs.
“We are on the front line here,” she continued.
“Parents are not to blame. When the young girl’s mother heard she was devastated.”
She said some parents claimed PIPS was not doing enough. “They don’t realise that due to child protection there needs to be a parent or guardian there (at hospital) as we don’t have the authority to consent to treatment. We can refer the youngsters to Contact NI and Addition NI, but we need the parents there to support the child.
“Also, if parents have prescription drugs in the house they need to be under lock and key. These drugs are highly addictive.”
Carlee stressed how dangerous prescription drugs can be.
“These are as dangerous as black market drugs,” she warned. “They are a risk to life.”
Carlee called for more “joined-up treatment” for young people who attend A&E with overdoses, such as being seen immediately and getting follow-up support afterwards. “When they get to hospital they are being seen by the crisis response teams and then when they get out they go and get more drugs,” she said.
“When they arrive at A&E they should be seen immediately, but when we took (one teenager) to Antrim Area Hospital, he was waiting, so he just walked out and didn’t even get help.”
In order to protect both the PIPS workers and to ensure the youngsters get the support they need, Carlee says that her organisation will contact the PSNI in future cases of prescription drugs overdose in minors.
“We can’t wave a magic wand,” said Carlee. “If we go out to support someone we need the parents’ support and the parents need to be aware that they can ring the PSNI, as the police and GPs have powers we don’t.
“We have not had overdoses lead to death as yet but it could happen.”
She is also calling for stricter controls on certain prescription medication and on the sale of some over-the-counter pills.
PSNI spokesman Sergeant Brian Caskey commented: “The supply of prescription drugs is covered by the Misuse of Drugs Act. Generally, it is illegal to be in possession of a prescription drug if you have not been prescribed that medication by a medical professional. It is also illegal to supply or sell prescription medication without a licence.
“It is dangerous to take medication that has not been prescribed for you. We have solid local links with community groups like PIPS and it is important that we work in partnership to hammer home these drug misuse messages.
“Police are working hard to enforce the drugs laws with regard to illegal drugs such as cocaine, heroin and ecstasy. We will take a serious interest in dealers that are running side lines in prescription medication. But, it is important that we work together with other statutory agencies, schools and voluntary groups to raise awareness of the misuse of prescription medication,” he concluded.
PIPS Larne operates counselling services in conjunction with Addiction NI and Contact NI.
The organisation is looking for more volunteers to be trained up in interventions with drugs and suicide prevention.
For more information and advice, phone PIPS Larne on 07530 797716 on Monday-Friday from 9am-5pm. Alternatively, ring their 24-hour suicide prevention line on 08088088000.
A Belfast Trust spokesperson commented: “If a child presents to the Emergency Department (ED) following an overdose of prescription medications they will first be assessed by the ED team to ensure no adverse side effects. Once medically fit, the child will be assessed regarding the risk of further harm, and if necessary will remain in hospital and will be assessed by the Child and Adolescent Intervention team (CAIT).
“Those children for whom the risk is considered low, may be discharged home to the care of a responsible adult / parents for follow up by the CAIT team. “Typically this follow up happens within a day or two, at child’s home or by appointment. In all cases the child’s GP will be informed.”
No statement was available from the Northern Trust at the time of going to press.