Belfast City Centre council chiefs have installed needle bins in a number of public toilets in the city, allowing drug users to dispose of their used needles safely. The measures were taken after complaints from the public as well as cleaners who had found numerous discarded needles in the toilets.
The public toilets on the Dublin Road were the first to have the needle bins installed towards the end of 2014, and four more sites now have the bins installed. The bins are secured to the walls and have ‘sharps disposal’ written on them. As well as drugs users, those with conditions such as diabetes will also be able to use the bins.
Stephen Corr, Sinn Féin Councillor and the council’s health and environmental services committee chairperson, said that the bins had been installed in response to a demand from the public. He said that the city has a problem with drugs but that the council want to make sure that there is a method for safe disposal of sharp needles and other objects. He also said that the scheme might be extended to other public toilets in the city and even to some of the public parks at which there is a current problem with drug use.
Police are already carrying out operations against drug-selling gangs in some of the well-known parks in the city. The Botanic Gardens and the Ormeau Park have recently seen a large number of heroin users, so police are now targeting those selling there. It was during the summer of 2014 that police became aware of the growing problem and this was as a result of increased complaints regarding discarded needles in the parks.
Police have now placed more patrols around the areas and already in February (2015), there have been 27 drug-related arrests. There are several locations in the parks where drug dealers are selling to users; the public toilets are one of these locations. Police are using both uniformed officers and plain-clothed detectives in the operation.
Chief Inspector Robert Murdle told of how the operation has been a success so far in disrupting the supply of drugs in the area. He said that they have charged 17 people with supplying Class A drugs and there have been charges of money laundering as well.
For a number of years, cannabis and cocaine gave the PSNI the most trouble but, with the growing number of cases of heroin sales on the streets, police are concerned. They have confirmed that they are targeting the suppliers of the drugs rather than the users, despite the fact that it is illegal to possess drugs in Northern Ireland.
Chief Inspector Murdle was keen to point out that, while he was aware of rumours that foreign nationals are responsible for selling the drugs, there are no specific ‘ethnic minority groups involved’. He said that those selling the drugs include locals as well as foreigners.
The police operation in Northern Ireland is targeting those supplying the drugs rather than those using the drugs, which many feel is the right way to tackle drug problems in society. Those who have become addicted to drugs are often not criminals; they have simply found themselves in a desperate situation that they cannot get out of.
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