NI drugs seizures hit a 10-year peak

Police have revealed drugs seizures in Northern Ireland are at a 10-year peak.

Officers carried out 5,597 seizures and made 2,953 arrests in the 12 months from April 2015 to March 2016.

They said they are targeting 50 to 70 crime gangs of various sizes and 100 to 130 individuals linked to drugs criminality, including people from NI, the Republic and European nationals.

“Some of these also may have a paramilitary background,” police added.

Superintendent Andrea McMullan, in charge of tackling drugs crime, explained that seizures go up and down seasonally, but have risen year on year since 2006.

She said it’s unclear whether this is due to police becoming more effective, or because there are more drugs in circulation.

However the superintendent believes there is a “growing confidence” in policing among communities in Northern Ireland and a “stronger relationship between the two”.

She went on: “This has increased reporting and added valuable information to police intelligence, resulting in more searches, seizures and arrests.”

While police figures showed cannabis to be the "most prevalent" illegal drug, benzodiazepines were also revealed to be a problem.

DCS McMullan said benzodiazepine is a factor in a "large amount" of drug-related deaths in Northern Ireland.

“These drugs are either being sold illegally by users receiving them on prescription or being sold over the internet, or they may be counterfeit medication,” she added.

Officers from the PSNI have been working closely with An Garda Síochána and Border Force UK to tackle drugs crime.

However they believe that due to seizures and prosecutions over the last year, drug dealers have "become more cautious", for example, dealing in smaller consignments in case they get caught.

The PSNI has also been “particularly successful” in reducing the threat posed by New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) currently referred to as legal highs particularly in the Belfast area.

Andrea McMullan continued: “Drugs are illegal because they are harmful.

“The Programme for Government is, in part, about improving health and wellbeing. If we are not tackling issues such as cannabis, which have a harmful effect on health and mental health, we are building a dangerous legacy around community health and welfare.”