The massive haul of Class A drugs seized by police in Newtownabbey over the past year is an indication of their increased use on local streets, a leading substance abuse worker has said. Director of Services at Forum for Action on Substance Abuse and Suicide Awareness (FASA) Jim Weir was speaking after new figures show large increases in seizures of hard drugs such as cocaine and heroin in Newtownabbey over the past 12 months.

In an interview with the North Belfast News, police chief in the area Inspector Martin Ruddy put the increased haul down to growing co-operation from a community keen to see the deadly drugs off the streets.

Over the past year police in the area have seized 1,987 grams of cocaine, as well as 16.8 grams of heroin and 9,743 grams of ecstasy tablets in Newtownabbey alone. One gram of heroin is sold on the street for £90.

The PSNI figures show that 94 people have been arrested in connection with drugs offences with 55 charged.

Jim Weir said the seizures are a worrying pointer that people in the area are hooked on the harder drugs.

“We have seen an increase in the use of heroin over the past while,” he said. “It is still seen as quite a taboo drug so wouldn’t have the same usage of say cocaine or cannabis but it is still in use.

“Mostly it is poly drug mis-users who are using it with a cocktail of other drugs. But we are also seeing it in people who are taking it as their first drug.

“I think the worrying thing here is that big hauls of cocaine and heroin shows they are in demand in the area.”

Inspector Martin Ruddy said community cooperation has been key to the number of significant drugs seizures.

“We have had some very significant seizures over the year,” he said.

"We have a distinct drugs target in Newtownabbey and have been set it as a priority from every level. What is helping is working with the communities. They are noticing suspicious activity and then have the courage to pick up the phone and call us. They want the drugs off the streets and want to help us.” He agreed that the large seizures indicate drug use in the area is on the increase.

“The figures show a significant increase in seizures and it is good that police are getting them,” he said.

“The reality is that drugs are in our community and are a major concern.

The fact that we have seized heroin and cocaine can be put down to the increase in their use.”

The top policeman also refused to say if the drugs trade in the area is being controlled by paramilitaries but acknowledged some of those arrested in connection to the drugs seizures do have connections to loyalist paramilitaries.

“What I will say is that individuals with connections to paramilitary organisations have been arrested for drugs offences,” he said.

“That is not to say that paramilitary organisations at a high level are involved in the distribution of drugs.”

Sinn Féin councillor in the area Gerry O’Reilly welcomed the increase in seizures and urged local people to continue to report dealers in their area.

“I welcome the increase in those people who have been arrested and charged and the main concern is there has been a significant increase in class a drugs including cocaine,” he said,

“There are elements in the area exploiting young people for their own selfish profit. These people involved in the illegal trade know the misery they are spreading. I would urge anyone with information on the drug use to report it to police.