"Enough to keep Fermanagh in dope for a week" is the assessment of the
Belnaleck narcotics haul by one man who knows more than most about the
drugs scene in Fermanagh.

The coordinator of the Drugwiser education programme at Enniskillen's
Aisling Centre, John Ellis agreed that whilst the discovery of three kilos
of cannabis resin and 80 ecstasy tablets was "a surprisingly large find" by
Fermanagh standards, he reckons it represents only a fraction of the
illicit drugs which are being peddled in the pubs and nightclubs of
Fermanagh on a weekly basis.

While much of the media glare has focused on ecstasy and a handful of
well-publicised tragedies involving the drug, John says the use of other
drugs such as cocaine and speed is a lot more widespread than many of us
would imagine. Cannabis use, he says, is endemic, and despite moves to
decriminalise the drug John says there is a dangerous public misconception
that it is a harmless substance.

Alcohol is still the most widely abused recreational drug in Fermanagh and
John says young people are now much more likely to indulge in binge
drinking than their parents.

"Alcohol is the main gateway to other drugs and I would be concerned about
the level of drinking by young people. You can go into many of the pubs and
nightclubs in Enniskillen where there are young people of 16 or so and
there is absolutely no attempt to check ages."

In many of the same establishments he believes there is an acceptance that
drugs are changing hands, not via the stereotypical shady drug dealer but
through informal social networks and small-time distributors who usually
operate on a modest scale, dealing with friends and acquaintances.

Ecstasy is now regarded by many as an acceptable recreational drug for a
night out; however John cautions that it is an insidious substance which
can have devastating effects on the user.

"What we are finding is people are buying ecstasy and mixing it with
alcohol which is not a good idea. There is a very real risk that such a
combination could be lethal because both substances cause dehydration which
can potentially bring on heatstroke."

Another worry for drugs awareness workers is that ecstasy and other illegal
substances are now more affordable: not only do younger people have more
disposable income, but prices have come down - ecstasy tablets retailing at
UKP15 a few years ago are now selling at UKP5 a go.

Even cocaine - once seen as an exotic, exclusive drug - is now in common
usage, often as a supplement to ecstasy.

As with ecstasy, cocaine and amphetamines are usually 'cut' or mixed with
other substances including caffeine, glucose or other more dangerous
compounds. "The problem with ecstasy is there is no quality control or
consumer's rights, you don't know what is going into an e-tab," says John.
Other drugs which are making their mark in

Fermanagh include 'base speed' or methylamphetamine which can have
particularly severe side-effects including extreme paranoia, confusion and

"Even established drug users would rate it as a dirty drug," he says.

At this time of year he says parents should also be mindful of the
increased incidence of solvent abuse - long school holidays can lead to
bored teenagers looking for cheap kicks from the most unlikely sources.

The misuse and abuse of prescription drugs is also another major problem:
"There are more people hooked on prescription drugs in Northern Ireland
than on illegal drugs so we would urge parents to be vigilant about where
tranquillisers, anti-depressants and painkillers are kept," he said.

Pubdate: Wed, 24 Jul 2002
Source: Fermanagh Herald (Ireland)
Website: http://www.fermanaghherald.com/
Contact: Editor@Fermanaghherald.Com
Copyright: 2002, the North-West of Ireland Printing & Publishing CO. Ltd