Prescription drug abuse in Larne is at its worst ever level, with addicts taking the drugs “as if they are Smarties,” says a local charity worker.
Chair of suicide prevention charity PIPS Larne Carlee Letson, who has witnessed first-hand the harrowing effects of drug abuse on local youngsters, spoke out amid calls for the Home Office to make prescription drug Lyrica a class C drug due to its abuse by Northern Ireland teenagers.
Carlee says the drug, which is prescribed to treat epilepsy and nerve pain, is “common on the streets of Larne” where it is particularly popular amongst teenagers aged 16 to 18.
Police in Larne also announced this week that they are due to incinerate a huge haul of new psychoactive substances, formerly known as legal highs, with a street value of approximately £7000 which were seized from a premises in a joint operation with the council last year.
“I believe that the kids would take anything, they are taking new psychoactive substances with prescription drugs and they don’t realise the risks they are taking, then they mix them with alcohol and it’s a lethal combination,” Carlee revealed.
“They can cause hallucinations and make users violently sick, some of the drugs have a more sedating effect.
“We are currently treating 11 people on Lyrica in the 16 to 18 age range.
“One addict was sent to his doctor and he told him that he could go into a convulsion and end up in a coma.
“People take it for an adrenaline rush but maybe your first try will be your last,”
Recalling one of the most disturbing incidents involving prescription drugs, Carlee told how she attended an incident in Larne last year when she thought a youngster had died due to the abuse of Lyrica and other prescription drugs.
“His eyes had rolled up to the top of his head and he was out cold,” she revealed.
“I went to check if he was still alive and he got up foaming at the mouth.
“He had no clue where he was or who he was, and he was only 14 or 15.
“That terrified me.
“It’s scary to meet them with their eyes jumping out of their head and in such a vulnerable state, young girls who take these substances could get raped and they wouldn’t even know it.”
PIPS Larne offers support services such as counselling for addicts and their families, but Carlee is calling for more to be done by the NHS and council to help those with mental health issues and the organisations which support them.
“At the moment we are coping with the situation but I can see it getting really out of hand,” she continued.
“There needs to be more money pumped into mental health services, which is a big issue in Larne at the minute.
“There are long waiting lists on the NHS and families are left to deal with these issues.”
Carlee also called on the local council to do more to support the efforts of PIPS Larne and other voluntary groups.
“In the past there has been too much talk and not enough action on this,” she said.
“In April we applied to make a presentation to council, we wanted to tell them about the work that we do and ask how they could help us support people.
“They told us we could do it in November, but we recently received a letter saying they can’t see us until March 2017.
“That could be a wait of up to 11 months which I think is a disgrace.
“We want to know what the council is going to do to support local people.
“The council are spending £12,000 promoting The Gobbins and other tourist attractions, but what are they going to do to protect life?
“I feel that the council has turned its back on the people of Larne.”
A council spokesperson said the delay did not reflect the importance it placed on suicide prevention and substance misuse.
“Most requests to present to Council come before the Community Planning Committee and in this case, PIPS would fall into this category,” he stated.
“The Committee is required to give precedence, in the limited available time for presentations, to its statutory partners.
“Unfortunately, due to a high volume of time-bound requests to make representations to Council from statutory partners in the development of the Community Plan, due for release on 1 April 2017, the Community Planning Committee agenda has been full for a number of months.
“Council is committed to supporting the work of organisations such as PIPS and delay is in no way reflective of the importance placed by Council on the need to address both suicide prevention and substance misuse. As soon as the agenda permits, council will receive a presentation from PIPS and should there be a cancellation of an agenda item, council will bring forward other outstanding items.
“Suicide prevention and tackling substance misuse requires a multi-agency approach and Council continues to engage in this ongoing process with other organisations throughout the Borough, led by the Health sector. Council also lit up its civic buildings last month in support of World Suicide Prevention Day.”