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Tuesday, 26 November, 2002, 15:00 GMT
City glue-sniffing misery
Gangs of young glue-sniffers and solvent abusers have been accused of giving Belfast city centre a bad name after a wave of petty thefts and muggings in recent months.

The issue is examined in the Spotlight programme on BBC One Northern Ireland, which reports on how the teenagers are putting their health and lives at serious risk.

Groups of teenagers have taken up residence in many spots around the commercial district of the city, seeking the relative anonymity of shopping areas as cover for their solvent abuse.

Sixteen-year-old Sean was mugged by four glue-sniffers in October and his mobile phone was stolen during the assault.


Quite literally it'll take control of your mind, your body and your life

Mark Gordon
Community worker
"They held my wrists while they frisked me. The smell of the glue off them was unbelievable. They were acting like drunk people do, but it was the solvents," he said.

Mark Gordon, a community worker from Bangor, County Down, was close to death by the time he managed to kick his solvent abuse habit.

Now aged in his 30s, as a teenager he was a heavy glue-user.

Control

"I started off using a toothpaste size tube per evening and finished up with the two litre tin per day," he said.

These days, Mark works with young people who need help with their problems and he has strong words of warning against solvent misuse: "Don't do it, don't get stuck on glue.

"Because quite literally it'll take control of your mind, your body and your life."

Jean Young from west Belfast knows all too well the terrible price solvent abuse can take. Her 15-year-old son Michael died four years ago after inhaling air freshener.

Tragically, it was the first time he had experimented with inhalents.

Tragedy

"You can go into a shop and lift them and they're essential things that people need. You don't realise those things can kill your children," she said.

Michael's sister, Jane, says the dangers of solvent abuse need to be highlighted: "It's been the weakest link in the drug chain, it's time it was put right."

Back in the city centre, business owners like Nick Stevenson are sympathetic to the plight of the young users, although they are causing problems for their customers.

"I saw a girl with a glue-bag pushing a pram with her baby in it - now that's a problem for that person and that child," he said.

Spotlight is broadcast on BBC One Northern Ireland on Tuesday at 2235 GMT.

See also:

15 Mar 02 | Health
09 Jul 02 | N Ireland
14 Jul 02 | Health
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