Used heroin needles being found throughout Belfast is a worrying indicator of the extent of the city’s problem with the highly addictive opioid.
The needles, which can pose a health risk to anyone coming into contact with them, have been found on the streets and in places like public toilets and parks with increasing frequency.
In addition to the risks around taking Class A drugs like heroin, such as overdosing, those in the grip of addiction also face additional medical issues that can arise from sharing needles - from damaging veins and developing blood clots, to developing infections or contracting viruses like HIV or hepatitis.
That has already prompted debate around how to realistically cope with the growing problem of drug addiction – for example, exploring the possibility of providing more safe injecting facilities.
The charity Extern has launched a needle exchange service to try to save lives.
Drugs and alcohol health worker Chris Rintoul told UTV: “Injecting drug use has increased in Belfast exponentially, and in particular within the last five years.
“And even if we look in the last two years, there’s really good evidence to show that it has escalated even further.”
While heroin use is rising rapidly, facilities to help addicts are unable to keep up with the demand.
One pregnant woman was unable to access help in Northern Ireland and was only able to enter a rehab facility in England thanks to an anonymous donor.
She is now clean and caring for her five-week-old daughter.
But her experience with heroin is harrowing - and she is one of the lucky ones, with many others struggling to get the support they need.
“My first time taking heroin … Within a couple of weeks, that was you hooked – you had to have it every single day,” she told UTV.
“I took heroin to overdose, to be honest. It’s not that I wanted to take it to try it as a new drug – I just didn’t want to be here and I couldn’t get help or a way out.
“I had asked for help a few times and I tried to detox myself, going cold turkey, and always ended up reusing and relapsing.”
Help & Support:
There is a mechanism in place to report sharps or needles found in Belfast city centre to the council, in order for them to be removed safely.
During office hours (8am-5pm), call: 028 90 270469
Out of hours (5pm-8am, including weekends, public and bank holidays), call: 07850 499622