Spiked drinks could be cause of eight deaths in Northern Ireland
SPIKED drinks may be responsible for eight deaths in Northern Ireland which could be linked to lethal drugs, the health minister said.
People aged in their 20s and 30s in Belfast and the North West have died and the region's chief medical officer has alerted doctors and other medical professionals about suspected ecstasy-type tablets and alcohol while tests are carried out.
Stormont minister Edwin Poots told the Assembly seized alcohol was also being tested.
"We have no evidence to suggest that any of these people have taken drugs but there are eight unexplained deaths and five of them in one area and there is an indication that that might be the case," he said.
"It could well be that someone has had their drinks spiked with drugs and we need to be careful about that."
Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) chief constable Matt Baggott said while it would be premature to draw connections between these tragic deaths, a thorough investigation was being carried out and officers awaited the results of forensic tests.
"No matter what the outcome of the forensic analysis shows, the PSNI is committed to tackling the scourge of drugs and we are taking robust measures to protect communities," he said.
Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson has said police need to act following the deaths, many in his East Belfast constitutency.
"It indicates that the police cannot relax on these matters, they need to pursue, because it is well-known who is selling drugs in east Belfast," he said.
In the last year nearly 2,800 people were arrested and held to account for drugs offences while there were over 4,400 seizures valued at £10 million, police said.
Mr Poots warned "bad people" supplying drugs were being shielded by others who claimed to be protecting their communities.
"People need to look at themselves, to reflect on that. We don't need drugs in our communities and people who are engaging in supplying drugs to our communities don't belong to our communities," he added.
"The best way of getting rid of bad people out of our communities is to speak to the police, give them information and have those people where they belong, which is behind bars. I hope the courts step up to the mark and ensure they are behind bars for a very long time."