Hard drugs now killing more people than road accidents, police reveal
Narcotic drugs are now responsible for more deaths here than road accidents, police have warned.
In 2015, the number of people who died while misusing opioid drugs - a category that includes heroin, morphine, methadone, tramadol and codeine - increased by almost 50%.
There were 88 opioid-related deaths in 2015 and 74 from road crashes.
In the first two weeks of a new operation to combat the problem, police seized drugs with a street value of £309,000.
Operation Torus began on February 27, and during the first two weeks offices searched more than 240 properties.
The latest campaign targets street-level drug dealers.
So far 59 people have been arrested and a further 43 have been charged or reported to the Public Prosecution Service.
While most opioid drugs are prescription drugs controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act, they can be lethal.
Announcing the preliminary figures, Detective Chief Superintendent Tim Mairs, head of the reactive and organised crime branch, said: "Drugs remain a policing priority due to the devastating effects they can cause to individuals, their families and communities.
"The number of deaths in Northern Ireland connected to drug use is on the increase and this is a concern. Sadly, these are all preventable.
"A report by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs in December 2016 highlighted that there was an increase of opioid deaths across the UK between 2012 and 2015, with Northern Ireland having the second highest increase of 47%, following England at 58%.
"This indicates that, despite the smaller numbers we are dealing with in Northern Ireland, the rate of increase is worrying.
"It also highlighted that the number of opioid deaths now accounts for a larger number of fatalities in the UK than traffic collisions.
"Behind each of these statistics for drugs and roads deaths is a person and a family who is living with this loss.
"It is recognised that road traffic fatalities are still too high, so to compare this issue with deaths from opioid drugs shows just how big a problem this is now becoming.
"Police will continue to target drug dealers and those in the supply chain in Northern Ireland to try and remove this scourge on society.
"However, this is not a problem that police can solve alone.
"We can tackle the symptoms and will continue to work with our partners in other sectors, including health and education to address the wider causes."
In the first two weeks of Operation Torus, police have had significant success in the number of searches, seizures and arrests linked to street-level drug dealers.
"The latest overall figures show that from February 2016 to February 2017, there have been 5,182 drugs seizures across Northern Ireland and 2,696 drug-related arrests," said Mr Mairs.
"The seizure of £309,000 worth of drugs over the past three weeks is ongoing proof that our commitment to acting upon information provided by communities has paid off.
"We could not carry out the job we do without the help of communities."