In addition to the number of drug deaths and mental health, action is needed

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However, the reality that so many young lives have been lost in Belfast alone in such a short period of time demands a comprehensive and focussed response from the authorities.

He was clearly a person who, like many other victims, was held in high esteem by his relatives and friends, and not long ago had actually qualified as a mental health worker.

It is clear that Patrick’s family made enormous efforts to help, driving round the city at all hours trying to find him and bring him to a place of safety, during an ordeal they described as `soul destroying.’

Sadly, his life then went in the wrong direction, and, despite strong support from his loved ones, he had been sleeping rough in and around Belfast for the last four years.

Story Highlights

  • There have already been firm indications that we are facing a growing crisis, with the most recent official Northern Ireland statistics showing that the number of drug related deaths in 2020 was 218 – more than twice the figure from a decade previously.

  • Every single case represents a tragedy of enormous proportions for a grieving family, and there will be particular concern over the circumstances surrounding the death of 27-year-old Patrick McIlroy.

He was found dead on a city centre street just over a week ago, and it looks inevitable that the combination of drugs and homelessness will increase the death toll in the coming weeks.

The health minister Robin Swann has said that new strategies have been launched in an attempt to deal with the treatment of co-occuring mental health and substance abuse problems.

At the same time, in a familiar message, he also said that the full implementation of the frameworks is `dependent on provision and availability of additional funding’. It is very difficult to see how the overall allocation of the resources necessary to prevent further needless deaths will happen without strong support from a functioning and committed Stormont administration.

There are many reasons why a partnership executive should return without delay, but few are more pressing than the responsibility to ensure that vulnerable young people are not found dead in the alleyways of our towns and cities.