Families of young people who have been affected by the “social plague” of legal highs and other drugs are to gather with interested groups at the conference in Derry this morning (Friday, October 3rd).
Among those speaking at the event will be Colette Quigley from Derry and Karen Audina from Donegal.
Colette Quigley from Galliagh lost her 19-year-old son to suicide at the start of this year. Andrew had been battling substance addiction issues in the years before his death and his family had been trying to secure help for him.
Karen Audina’s son Jimmy Guichard (20) died from a massive heart attack after a brain haemorrhage, shortly after taking a bag of legal highs he had purchased from a shop in England, at a cost of three euro.
Jimmy’s mother will speak about what happened on the first anniversary of her son’s death.
The conference at the Tower Hotel has been organised by a newly set up group called United Communities Against Drugs.
The group is made up of concerned parents, individuals and organisations.
In a statement ahead of the conference, a spokesman for the group said: “In this time we have dealt with young people committing suicide, dying from overdoses and physical reactions or developing permanent mental and physical disorders. We have witnessed families torn apart by addictive and irrational behaviour and young people being subjected to the criminal justice system or to paramilitary attacks.
“We have seen community life being decimated by anti-social behaviour, crime and violence.”
Those who have come together to found the group said that their combined experiences have led them to the conclusion that substance abuse and its effects on individual users, their immediate families and the wider community are so severe and increasing so rapidly that urgent, co-ordinated action needs to be taken to deal with the problem.
“So called ‘legal highs’ and ‘head shops’ in particular have led to what can only be described as a social plague spreading unchecked through the youth of our community,” the spokesman said.
“We are more than aware of the number of independent organisations and statutory programmes which are attempting to tackle one or other aspect of the problem, and fully appreciate all their efforts. However it is our belief that the available resources, political impetus and support and services which could be brought to bear need to be more strategically focused, co-ordinated and upgraded with appropriate urgency and dedication.”
The new network now has three main objectives: a public awareness campaign centred on the extent and nature of the problem and its causes; disseminating information on the dangers and effects of substance abuse; the creation of a support network capable of providing or signposting crisis intervention support at crucial times of need.
Sinn Féin MEP Martina Anderson has confirmed she will be attending the conference. Ms Anderson said: “Many, particularly young people, have also been severely damaged by taking legal highs. And the problem is these substances continue to be sold legally over the counter.
“I am glad to see that this awareness week includes events in Derry and Donegal because the devastating impact of legal highs is the same everywhere.”
The conference at the Tower Hotel is timed to coincide with the Letterkenny Legal High Awareness Week and is being co-ordinated by interested parties from Derry, Omagh, Strabane, Letterkenny and Belfast.
Other speakers include former heroin user Brendan McGee from the Simon Community in Dublin and Dr Ann McCloskey from Shantallow Health Centre.
The event will be chaired by Tommy McCourt from Time To Decide.
It will take place between 11am and 2.30pm and is open to all.