Councillor calls for an assessment of drugs counselling provision in borough

James McKeown. INLT 46-320-PR
James McKeown. INLT 46-320-PR

A LARNE councillor has told of consultations in recent weeks with the families of young people at risk of self-harm or suicide because of drug abuse.

Lobbying for the establishment of a counselling service for the borough, Coast Road representative James McKeown told how two members of one family had attempted to take their own lives and another case in which two young men addicted to the so-called legal high Ocean Snow had been “literally been bouncing their heads of a wall”.

Proposing a motion that the council, in conjunction with the PSNI and other statutory agencies, should combine to enable a dedicated service to be set up, the Sinn Fein councillor told colleagues at their monthly meeting: “Whether we like to admit it or not, there is a drug problem in the Larne borough and we as a community have an obligation to do anything we can to do something about it.”

There was broad support in the council for the motion after it was amended, at the suggestion of Ulster Unionist councillor Mark McKinty, to task officers with undertaking an audit of all groups and agencies presently engaged in the field of substance abuse in the Larne area, before examining the potential for enhanced service provision.

Cllr McKeown said the community as a whole had “lost young people” in the past to classified drugs and legal highs and would continue to do so.

He revealed that in the past eight weeks he been approached by three families who feared for the safety of relatives in the 16-26 years age bracket who were addicted to legal highs and who would be “scarred for the rest of their lives” because of it.

The Carnlough councillor said Sinn Fein had recently met with senior PSNI officers who had accepted “that there is a serious drug problem in Larne”.

He added: “Since that meeting, I have had 17 phone calls regarding drugs.

“This motion does not ask the council to act alone on this issue, but I think it is imperative that we are seen to take some sort of action.”

Cllr McKeown suggested involving the police, the Housing Executive and charity groups like Preventing Addiction Larne (PAL) and the Ballymena-based Hope Centre’s family and addict support services.

Seconding the motion, Cllr Martin Wilson urged the council: “As civic leaders, we do have a role to play in establishing a service for those who are unfortunate enough to be caught up in drugs.” The SDLP man suggested it was an issue for the new policing and community safety partnership when it is set up.

DUP councillor Drew Niblock said he was glad that Cllr McKeown had acknowledged PAL which, he added, had the support of most councillors. He described the charity, which holds weekly support group sessions, as being cross-community, adding: “If the Sinn Fein member is serious, maybe you should give your support to PAL.”

In reply, Cllr McKeown said he was aware of PAL’s work, but he added: “Unfortunately, one meeting a week at the day centre does not fill the role. What we need is a 24-hour comprehensive service.”

The Larne Times reported a fortnight ago that PAL is seeking premises in which to base a family counselling service, initially on one morning each week.

Cllr McKinty raised the prospect of an audit of existing local provision of help for addicts and families. He was aware that PAL lacked premises.

Another charity, Addiction NI (the only group in the province that aims specifically to help alcohol and drugs-addicted older people), had plans to extend its service in the Larne area.

He suggested inviting all the groups and agencies to a meeting to establish what is available and then seeking to improve on it, while ensuring there was no duplication.

Cllr McKinty added: “Drugs are a big problem and it is only going to get worse if we don’t do something about it.”

Ald Roy Beggs (UUP) said that any future service should not be concentrated in one location.

“It is vital that it should be for the Coast, Town and Lough district electoral areas,” he urged.

After being commended by DUP mayor, Cllr Bobby McKee, for forwarding the motion, Cllr McKeown stressed the need for action.

“I spent most of today with a family whose two sons had literally been bouncing their heads of a wall because they are addicted to legal highs.

“Drugs are ruining not only society, but families,” he said.