Concern over increase in use of ‘legal highs’

Community workers from Creggan have said now is the time to start a citywide debate into how best to tackle the growing problem with so-called ‘legal highs’ and other substance abuse.

The move follows “a significant increase” in the number of people, of all ages, from all around the city coming forward to ask for help in relation to their own drug usage or that of family members.

Shauna Deery of the Creggan Neighbourhood Partnership said in the last three weeks alone, her organisation has received requests for help from eight people who are desperate for somewhere to turn to for help with drugs problems, mostly in relation to legal highs which can be purchased easily online.

“The biggest problem we have is with people using ‘Mexxy’, which is labelled as ‘bath salts’ or ‘plant feeder’ and clearly labelled as ‘not suitable for human consumption’.

“The other big ‘legal high’ is grass and we have had seasoned drug users who have used it and tell us they are having very bad experiences on.”

She highlighed the increased numbers of people being expelled from the city by vigilante groups - and indeed the recent murder of Top of the Hill man Andrew Allen.

Seamus Heaney of the Old Library Trust said such recent events meant that now was the time when the entire community had to come together - from the bottom to the top - to tackle this issue, and the abuse of other substances, in a way which leaves no room for people to take the law into their own hands.

“We have reached a position where we are operating in a vacuum. People have nowhere to turn to for help, for a number of reasons, and when people are in desperate situations they will take desperate measures.”

The increase in drugs use and alcohol misuse is “worrying”, Conal McFeely of Creggan Enterprises said, adding that it was “most definitely” a citywide and district wide problem - not solely contained to working class areas.

“There is no doubt that people are looking to drugs as a form of escapism. We are seeing increasing numbers of people feeling hopeless about the future and turning to substance abuse as a coping mechanism.”

The community workers are calling for ongoing debate on this issue and will be contacting statutory and voluntary agencies in the coming weeks to begin a dialogue.