Drugs: Twenty NI deaths likened to 'serial killer'

Mays Chambers, Belfast Inquests are being held into the drug-related deaths of six people in Northern Ireland

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Twenty deaths have now been linked to a new unregulated drug that was introduced in Northern Ireland last year.

A coroner has likened the deaths to having a serial killer on the loose.

John Leckey made his comments at one of several inquests in Belfast which is looking at the drug-related deaths of six people in NI.

The drug has a number of street names including speckled cherries and speckled crosses.

The inquests are examining the deaths of five men in Northern Ireland between May and September last year.

They were aged between 27 and 41.

Derek Owens and Diane Potter said their family had been 'robbed' following the death of their brother, James Owens.

The PSNI said a senior detective had been co-ordinating the investigations into drug-related deaths.

Det Supt Andrea McMullan said: "The substance is para-methyl-4-methylaminorex and is not confined to one particular brand of tablet.

"It has been identified in a number of tablets and in a number of deaths.

"People should not lull themselves into a false sense of security by thinking if they avoid tablet X and only take tablet Y or Z they'll be OK.

"The tragic reality is they will not. Anyone who takes illegal drugs runs a serious risk of causing themselves serious harm or killing themselves. There is no safe illegal drug."

Police investigations into the drugs-related deaths last summer resulted in a total of 11 arrests. One person has appeared in court.

Three others were awaiting court proceedings but one has since died.

The inquests this week looked at six deaths:

  • James Owens, 33, found outside a leisure centre in west Belfast in June
  • Alan McKenzie, 27, found dead at home in east Belfast in June
  • Neill Reeves, 29, who died after taking drugs with friends at home in July
  • Brian Mills, 41, found unconscious at home in Kircubbin, County Down, in August

Health Minister Edwin Poots said he had been "greatly concerned" about the number of new substances appearing on "our streets" and the harm they could cause.

"Over the past couple of years there has been growing concern about what have been inaccurately labelled as legal highs," he said.

"They are marked 'not for human consumption' for a reason, as the sellers are trying to get around our existing drug laws and medicines regulations.

"This is a reserved matter, I have written directly to the home secretary on this matter, and subsequently they have announced a review of how the UK's legislative response can be enhanced beyond the existing measures of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971."

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