Derry drugs crisis : Urgent meeting on detox centre sought amid calls for crackdown on ‘death dealers’

The drugs crisis sweeping through Derry and the surrounding district came to the fore at June’s full council meeting, with a number of Councillors speaking passionately and emotionally following a number of recent deaths in the city.

The Guildhall in Derry.
The Guildhall in Derry.

There was a call for a harder line to be taken on ‘death dealers’ and for a ‘muti-faceted’ response to the crisis.

The Moor Independent Councillor Gary Donnelly raised the matter describing it as ‘a drugs epidemic’.

Having paid his condolences to the families who have lost loved ones through the use of drugs, Councillor Donnelly said: “This has been leaving a trail of destruction and it has been taking and destroying lives. There is a perception amongst people throughout the area that it is spiralling out of control.

“There’s been a number of deaths in recent weeks and these deaths are believed to be attributed to controlled drugs and substances and I want to take this opportunity to offer my deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of those who have been affected.”

Calling for a fundamental change in the way the issue is dealt with, Colr Donnelly said: “This is a problem that can’t be shot or beaten away and it’s a problem that can’t be policed away.

“What we have in place at the minute isn’t working and we need to examine models which are used in other countries. We need to look at addiction and it needs to be treated more as a health and social problem rather than a criminal problem.

“It is a complex and multi-faceted situation and as such the response to it needs to be multi-faceted and this must include, in my opinion, education at an early stage and proper support for families of those at risk and support and harm reduction measures for those already affected. 

“This is a problem that needs to be brought out into the open and not brushed under the carpet. I believe it is the responsibility of each and every elected representative in this council.”

Aileen Mellon, Sinn Féin Councillor for Ballyarnett, also offered her condolences and spoke of how she had witnessed a child watching their mother being buried. “How many more people have to die before we take action? 

“It’s not acceptable and it should never be anybody’s wish that these drugs are acceptable on our streets.”

Although agreeing with Councillor Donnelly’s sentiments, Councillor Mellon and Sinn Fein had other views on handling the situation.

She said: “I feel a harder approach needs to be taken within the criminal justice system to deal with the death dealers within our society.

“The rapid rise of drugs in this City is heartbreaking and an extremely worrying reflection on the amount of dangerous drugs that are on our street, particularly the counterfeit prescription drugs that we hear about day and daily.

“If only we could get completely rid of these drugs from our families, from our homes and our communities but sadly that isn’t a realistic goal. What should be the case is that those who target, manipulate and exploit the most vulnerable in our communities should be brought to justice.

“The PSNI, PPS and the courts need to face those families and explain how death dealers can walk from a courtroom whilst others are faced with a hearse.

“We need action, we need better treatment for those suffering from addiction but we also need to call out those who are a cancer to our society.”

As all the parties offered their condolences to the families, SDLP Councillor Brian Tierney brought forward a proposal seeking an urgent meeting with the Northern Ireland Executive to discuss their plans around detox facilities and an addiction centre in Derry and Strabane, as mentioned in New Decade, New Approach. 

The Ballyarnett Councillor said: “Last week we saw representative after representative come forward and talk about the Irish Language rights and I fully support that, I totally do. We did see one party say they stepped around another party to deliver these rights, so I think it’s time we stepped around the Executive and take this to the highest level to protect people in our community.”

UUP Alderman Darren Guy spoke about a recent loss as he backed the proposal.

“Drugs ruin people’s lives, they ruin families and sadly in our City a number of users have lost their lives in recent weeks,” he said.

He related how someone he knew had been receiving help for his addictions but sadly succumbed to them.  “His family is obviously distraught and he leaves two young kids but he was trying to get help and I would urge anyone who knows any family members who partake in the use of these prescription-type drugs to warn them of the current dangers.”

Aontú Councillor Emmet Doyle described it as ‘the most important issue in this City at the moment’.

“People have been fighting for a detox centre for long enough and we are still fighting,” he said. “We are at war with drugs in this city. It’s getting to a stage now that there are generations of young people who are losing their lives to drugs. I think what we need now is people power, we cannot have political leaders of any persuasion tell us that this city doesn’t need a detox centre.”

The motion which read; ‘Council agrees to write to the NI Executive seeking an urgent meeting between Ministers and Councillors to discuss the level of drug-related deaths and ongoing high levels of drug abuse in this council area. Council also requests a frank discussion on the Department’s plans to support people within this council area and the plans for an addiction centre as mentioned in the New Deal, New Approach’, carried.

Gillian Anderson

Local Democracy Reporter