A major event aimed at engaging with practitioners and groups that support people experiencing alcohol and drug issues took place today at Belfast Castle.

Dr Andrew Charles BCC, Kelly Gilliland PHA, Diane McMullan BDACT, Seamus Mullen PHA, Gary Symington Lighthouse, Dr Michael McBride BH&SCT, Fr Martin Magill, Jo Murphy Lighthouse and Irene Sherry Ashton Community Trust.

Dr Andrew Charles BCC, Kelly Gilliland PHA, Diane McMullan BDACT, Seamus Mullen PHA, Gary Symington Lighthouse, Dr Michael McBride BH&SCT, Fr Martin Magill, Jo Murphy Lighthouse and Irene Sherry Ashton Community Trust.

The interactive workshop was the idea of groups that work in the North Belfast area and was supported by the Public Health Agency (PHA), Belfast Drugs and Alcohol Coordination Team (BDACT) and the North Belfast District Policing and Community Safety Partnership (NBDPCSP).

Irene Sherry of Ashton Community Trust, Jo Murphy of Lighthouse and Father Martin Magill, former parish priest of Sacred Heart, invited a wide range of organisations that provide services in North Belfast to take the opportunity to hear about current services that are working in the field of drugs and alcohol.

Chief Executive Officer of the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, Dr Michael McBride launched the event.

“The scale of health inequalities affecting deprived areas like North Belfast is of tremendous significance,” Dr McBride said.

“For those working at the coal face of this sector, drugs and alcohol consistently feature as significant presentation issues in situations of complex need. Working together in tackling these issues is vital. Belfast Trust is committed to working in partnership to deliver the best possible outcomes for our population.  This event is warmly welcomed and highlights again how valued and important this work is in supporting people who are struggling with addictions.”

Head of Health and Social Wellbeing Improvement with the PHA in Belfast and Co-chair of BDACT, Séamus Mullen, said: “Tackling drug and alcohol misuse is a complex issue that requires a coordinated approach; the PHA is committed to working in partnership with a range of organisations and local communities to do this.

“Across the region there are a number of PHA funded services in place to offer information, advice and/or one-to-one support to those with an alcohol and/or drug problem and their families.

“Today’s event provided an opportunity to showcase the support that is available and to share good practice on reducing harm caused by drug and alcohol misuse in society. It also allowed a wide range of professionals involved in drug and alcohol services to gain a greater understanding of the issues in North Belfast and how we can work together to improve the lives of everyone in the community.”

Head of Victims and Mental Health Services at Ashton Community Trust Irene Sherry said a more effective and collaborative approach was required in the face of significant alcohol and drug misuse levels particularly in the North Belfast area.

“Drugs and alcohol are complex issues and in North Belfast we know the devastating impact substance misuse is having on individuals, families and communities. We know that parts of Belfast are continuing to experience levels of extreme poverty, unemployment and poor mental health and it is fair to say that all of these factors are playing a part in the demand being placed on current drug and alcohol services.

Large crowd who attended todays workshop in Belfast Castle.

Large crowd who attended today’s workshop in Belfast Castle on Drugs & Alcohol.

“Experience shows us that working collaboratively together can make a difference. At this event we had nearly 100 people come together to showcase programmes, services and referral pathways that work to support young people, adults and families in Belfast. Practitioners also had the opportunity to share best practice and knowledge.

“We now intend to analyse the feedback received and we will be sharing that with participants. We are keen to identify trends, patterns and opportunities that can enable community partners and funded services to be more ‘joined up’ and to see how we can better address these significant health and life issues.”

Commenting on this initiative, Chair of North Belfast DPCSP, Cllr Nuala McAllister, said:

“I wholeheartedly welcome this event which highlights the range of support and advice services available in North Belfast.

“The North Belfast DPCSP is eager, along with other statutory and community-based agencies, to promote inter-agency work on these two very important issues. It is only by working together that we can combat alcohol and drug-related issues impacting communities, families and individuals on the ground.”