SDLP Foyle MLA Mark H Durkan has called for the establishment of a community engagement platform to tackle the devastating impact of illegal and prescription drugs in Derry.
It is envisioned that the project would bring together a range of stakeholders including the Department of Health, Department of Justice, the PSNI, local support organisations and members of the public.
It follows a number of drug-related deaths within the area.
Foyle MLA Mr Durkan said the recent tragic loss of life has been a stark reminder of the devastating impact of drug misuse and addiction within our community.
“We’re witnessing a frightening trajectory in terms of the number of drug-related deaths.
“Last year 212 lives were lost as a result of drug and substance misuse, leaving hundreds of families devastated right across the North.
“I’ve written to the Health Permanent Secretary, Peter May for an update on the Substance Use Strategy ‘Preventing Harm, Empowering Recovery’ and to ask how this necessary piece of work will be rolled out in the absence of an Executive.
“However, given continued uncertainty I believe that focus must be geared towards the development of an immediate response.
“As a result, I’ve contacted the Public Health Agency and relevant local stakeholders to propose the establishment of a Foyle Community Drug Panel,” said Mr Durkan.
He said the establishment of this forum would provide an opportunity to hear first-hand accounts of the impact of addiction within the city.
“Additionally, it would help develop a framework that could compliment and cultivate existing initiatives like the Western Drug and Alcohol Coordination Team who are doing good work but are woefully under-resourced.
“It is my belief that multi-agency cooperation will be key in saving lives and tackling the scourge of drugs in our community.
“I acknowledge that drug misuse and addiction is complicated issue, there are a range of factors which can lead people down this path including poor mental health, poverty and homelessness which disproportionately impact people in this area.
“There are many organisations doing fantastic work in Derry and providing support to vulnerable people, but those services are under immense pressure and I believe that through collaboration we can improve the current model of care to secure early intervention as well as getting people help when they need it.
“The PSNI also have a duty to tackle the influx of drugs within communities and crack down on the criminal gangs involved. We need a joined-up and immediate response to this crisis to help thousands of people suffering from addiction and drugs misuse,” said Mr Durkan.