Belfast Telegraph

Drug-related deaths more than double in decade

A total of 189 drug-related deaths were recorded in 2018.

Drug-related deaths involving cocaine increased in 2018 (PA)
Drug-related deaths involving cocaine increased in 2018 (PA)

By Michael McHugh and Rebecca Black, PA

The number of drug-related deaths has more than doubled in a decade in Northern Ireland.

Half of the cases involved a toxic cocktail of substances.

A total of 189 deaths were recorded for 2018, more than double that recorded a decade ago (89) and having risen by 39% over the year, the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) said.

Health minister Robin Swann said it is a challenge to him.

“When we look at those statistics, there is a individual behind each one of those numbers, there is a family behind each one of those numbers,” he said.

“It’s a challenge to me as to how we give support to those families at this minute in time. But it’s something we as a society must do, to tackle the misuse of not just illegal drugs but the misuse of prescription drugs.

“There is a job of work to be done across the Executive in actually starting to address these issues.”

Nuno Albuquerque, a drug addiction treatment expert at UKAT, said: “Today’s report from the NISRA paints an extremely worrying picture for those living with a drug problem in Northern Ireland.

“It’s important to remember that these aren’t just statistics; they’re someone’s mother, father, child or friend who have sadly died as a direct result of drug misuse.

“Insight like this is meant to better inform local policy and budget decision makers, in order to proactively improve the lives of vulnerable people living in Northern Ireland. We’re keen to hear what positive steps are going to be taken with regards to drug and alcohol treatment and prevention services after today’s stark and dark report.”

Half (95) of these deaths were young men aged 25 to 44 and in total, male deaths of all ages accounted for 70% of all drug-related deaths in 2018 (133).

The figures further show that between 2017 and 2018 the drug-related mortality rate increased for both males and females. The rate for males increased from 11.0 per 100,000 males in 2017 to 14.4; for females the equivalent rate rose from 3.7 per 100,000 females to 5.9.

Since 2010, over half of drug-related deaths each year have involved an opioid. In 2018, a total of 115 drug-related deaths had an opioid mentioned on the death certificate.

Heroin and morphine were the most frequently mentioned opioids in 2018, connected to 40 drug-related deaths, up from 24 in 2017 and the highest number on record.

Drug-related deaths involving cocaine increased from 13 in 2017 to 28 in 2018. It is the highest level on record.

PA

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