There was an average of one drug-related death every four days in Northern Ireland between 2008 and 2012, new statistics have revealed.
The research by experts at St George's University of London detailed 372 drug-related deaths here over the four years.
The National Programme on Substance Abuse Deaths (NPSAD) report also revealed there were 78 drug-related deaths here in 2012 — slightly down from 82 the previous year.
Of the 78 deaths, almost two-thirds were men.
Alcohol, in combination with other substances, was implicated in 29 deaths.
Opiates and opioid analgesics (pain killers) were implicated either alone or in combination in 45 deaths, with hypnotics and sedatives — such as sleeping pills — in 41 cases, anti-depressants in 31, and heroin or morphine in 12 cases.
Anti-psychotics were implicated in 10 deaths, anti-epileptics in four deaths, and the heroin substitute methadone in three.
Ecstasy-type drugs were only implicated in two cases, cannabis in one and cocaine in one.
Unemployed individuals made up 53.8% of the 78 fatalities and 12 had a history of drug use or dependence.
The median age at death was 40.5 years and 53.8% were under the age of 45 years.
Some 93.6% of fatalities occurred at the deceased’s home address or another private residential address, with 5.1% deaths occurring in hospital and 1.3% in a public place, such as a bus shelter.
Based on the information available from coroners, 33.3% of cases died from accidental overdose, 23.1% from intentional overdose, and in 42.3% of cases the intent was undetermined.
The cause of death of the remaining case was unascertained. The report also revealed how deaths linked to so-called legal highs across the UK as a whole have surged.
The number of cases in which “novel psychoactive substances” — better known as legal highs — were identified as the cause of death in 10 cases in 2009.
But in 2012 that had rocketed to 68 UK deaths.
Professor Fabrizio Schifano, spokesman for NPSAD, said: “We have observed an increase in the number and range of these drugs in the post mortem toxicology results and in the cause of death of cases notified to us.
“These include amphetamine-type substances, dietary supplements, ketamine derivatives, among a host of others.
“The worrying trend is that these type of drugs are showing up more than ever before.
“Clearly this is a major public health concern and we must continue to monitor this worrying development.”
He added: “Those people experimenting with these substances are effectively dancing in a minefield.”
Northern Ireland’s top five killer drugs can be legally obtained:
- 1. Pain killers
- 2. Sleeping pills
- 3. Anti-depressants
- 4. Alcohol, combined with another drug
- 5. Anti-psychotics