Plea for reform of addiction services as deaths increase
A charity has called for an urgent overhaul of services available to people hooked on drink and drugs.
Addiction NI has urged government departments to work together to update policies and help to reduce the stigma attached to addiction.
The charity is hosting a conference in Belfast today, bringing together addiction experts, health professionals, judges - including Fiona Bagnall who presides over a pioneering court aimed at helping drug users - and people affected by drug and alcohol abuse, as it marks its 40th anniversary of helping people here.
According to the most recent official figures, 136 people in Northern Ireland died as a result of drugs in 2017 - a 60% increase over a decade.
Recent figures also show that the number of men dying from drug-related causes has increased by 98% in the last 10 years.
Alcohol-related deaths are also on the rise. In 2017 the number rose for the fourth consecutive year to 303 - the highest on record.
Between 2013 and 2017 there was a 65% increase in female alcohol-related deaths.
Addiction NI director Alex Bunting said: "It is extremely important to highlight the excellent work that goes on helping support people impacted by substance misuse.
"The standard of care and support that is provided across the statutory and community sectors continues to make a real difference and saves lives every day. However, addiction is an increasingly complex issue.
"It has a devastating impact on individuals but also affects their families, friends and communities, with areas of high social deprivation suffering disproportionately."
Mr Bunting said under-investment in mental health services against a backdrop of trauma and conflict has created a situation where the mental health needs of people here must take priority.
He added: "The increasing needs in our communities are significant and can no longer be ignored.
"If we are to change the current culture, we need to think about stopping the causes of addiction as well as providing effective treatment and support. That's why our conference aims to start a conversation focused on how we can evolve current drug and alcohol policy, review our approaches and reduce the stigma of addiction."
Mr Bunting said 40 years' experience had taught how "the solution lies in a comprehensive, joined up approach" across government, with partners from the voluntary and community sector and people, families and communities across Northern Ireland.