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TV | Drug abuse in the spotlight in the next UTV ‘UP CLOSE’

“We use a lifesaving drug called naloxone, which reverses an opioid overdose, and then we administer CPR… we would do this on a daily basis.” – former addict and EXTERN volunteer, Neil Potter

The next episode of UTV’s award winning current affairs programme ‘Up Close’ investigates the devastating deadly consequences of illegal drug use on Belfast’s streets.

Deaths from drugs in Northern Ireland have more than doubled in a decade.

In 2020, 218 people died due to drug misuse, and so far this year in Belfast, 34 people have lost their lives, fifteen of them in a six week period. With people overdosing on the streets an almost daily occurrence, the programme speaks to those helping on the front line - including former addicts - and looks beyond our shores for solutions, as well as asking if enough is being done to tackle the problem.  

Presented by UTV’s Niall Donnelly, the hour-long programme follows on from a recent UTV Live news special on this issue. 

In the wake of the dramatic increase in drug deaths in Belfast, this ‘Up Close’ will talk to charities, statutory bodies, the police and ambulance service who will paint a picture of their lived experiences in helping to tackle the problem.

The programme opens with a report on the work being done to keep the people of the city safe and features Neil Potter, a former addict, and one of many EXTERN volunteers helping clean up the streets and support addicts. He explains how the life-saving drug naloxone is helping reverse opioid abuse: “We've reversed so many overdoses and so many lives have been saved because of naloxone.” 

He’s noticed a massive increase in cocaine use, as well poly substance abuse where users will use different drugs at the same time. 

There’s also a moving interview with Brian Maguire (73) a 50-year veteran of the Ambulance Service who describes how Belfast’s drug scene has got worse over the years and what it is like to be faced with an overdosed addict.

He says: “An overdose for us is a medical emergency, just like an asthmatic attack, an epileptic seizure, whatever. We treated it with the same urgency as a medical emergency… We lose a lot, but we also win a lot, and that’s down to the training, the medication, the experience.”

The programme shines a light on Belfast Homeless Services, a volunteer-led charity group, offering support to the vulnerable and homeless in Belfast. Services Coordinator, Liz Rocks, is calling for a joined up approach to deal with all the inter-related issues:

There's a whole combination of factors. There's a housing issue, all the serious mental health issues, there's alcohol, there's drug issues or alcohol issues, lack of resources, and nobody seems to be combined in anything to do it together.”

She comments about the people coming through her doors: “The only way they're going to stop using is if the proper resources are put in place for them, to give them the option of stop using.” She continues, “What needs to happen is our executive need to get their act together.”

During the programme, Niall will discuss the issues in the studio with guests including Paul McCusker from The People’s Kitchen, and Supt. Amanda Ford from PSNI.

There will also be interesting contributions from centres in Scotland and Portugal, both of which have been tackling their drugs issue locally in two very different ways.

Niall said: “Thank you to everyone who took part, especially those who talked so openly to us about their experiences. We hope that this ‘Up Close’ will help viewers realise not only how serious the problem of drug misuse is in Belfast, but also how very complex it is, requiring a multi-agency approach.”

Alison Fleming who produced the programme said: “Despite Niall and I having more than 50 years’ experience reporting for UTV, neither of us has seen Belfast in this light. It was truly frightening. Those helping and trying to address drug deaths in Belfast are true heroes.”

Head of News and Programmes at UTV Simon Clemison said: “We have been covering a number of drug-related deaths in Belfast on our news service throughout the summer. Given the apparent complexity of the issue we wanted to take time to dig deeper. Reporting on potential solutions as well as problems is important in journalism, so we hope this ‘Up Close’ sheds some light on what has been happening.”

 ‘Up Close’ will air Wednesday 17th August at 10.45pm on UTV.


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