Belfast Telegraph

Record Northern Ireland drug deaths 'tip of the iceberg', says dad who lost son after taking ecstasy

William Burns, whose son Jamie died due to drugs
William Burns, whose son Jamie died due to drugs
Nearly 200 people died drug-related deaths in Northern Ireland in 2018.
Gareth Cross

Gareth Cross

A Belfast father whose son died after taking ecstasy during a night out has said figures showing nearly 200 people died from drugs in Northern Ireland in 2018 were “the tip of the iceberg”.

Billy Burns set up the ‘One Pill Will Kill’ campaign after his 23 year-old son Jamie’s death in 2016 to spread awareness about the danger of drugs.

Data compiled by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) revealed that 189 people died from drugs in 2018, the highest number ever recorded.

Half of these deaths (95) were men between the ages of 25-44. Men accounted for 70.4% of all deaths during the 12 months.

The number of deaths has more than doubled from the 89 drug-related deaths in 2008 and has risen by 39% from 136 deaths in 2017.

Mr Burns said that he believed the research was not telling the whole story about those killed by drugs in Northern Ireland.

He told the Belfast Telegraph that the figure only included those who had died as a direct result of drugs and that there would be many other deaths where drugs would have played a part.

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“We may be only scratching the surface of the real figure,” Mr Burns said.

“The increase in the amount of young people dying with more than one drug in their system is particularly concerning, instead of doctors having to treat for one drug they are dealing with a cocktail.”

Mr Burns said the figures also didn’t reveal the impact the 189 deaths would have on the lives of the friends and family left behind.

Jamie Burns who died after taking an ecstasy pill
Jamie Burns who died after taking an ecstasy pill

“There are 189 families on the same journey we have been on since 2016, it’s not a nice path to travel,” he said.

The anti-drugs campaigner noted the majority of those dying from drugs were young men.

“My son Jamie was 23 and thought he would live forever — at the age they all believe they are invincible. They all think this won’t happen to them until it arrives on their doorstep and happens to a friend or family member, it can happen to anybody,” Mr Burns said.

He said he believed police could be doing more to tackle the issue and expressed hope the restored Stormont Assembly would take action.

“Education is a big part of it that I try to do, we’ll never stop it, but I try and encourage people to think for 10 seconds before taking anything and ask themselves, ‘Is this the last time I want to see my friends and family?’,” Mr Burns said.

“We have had no government for the last three years and there has been nobody to take action to tackle these issues.”

NISRA’s research showed that there are notably higher numbers of drug-related deaths in deprived areas of Northern Ireland.

People living in the most deprived areas are five times more likely to die a drug-related death than those living in more well-off areas.

Over 85% (161) of all drug-related deaths in 2018 were classed as drug-misuse deaths, up from 59.6% (53) in 2008. Half of the drug-related deaths involved three or more drugs.

Heroin and morphine were the most frequently taken drugs which led to deaths in 2018, being connected to 40 drug-related deaths, up from 24 in 2017 and the highest number on record.

Deaths involving cocaine are also the highest on record at 28 in 2018, up from 13 in 2017.

Diazepam was involved in 40.2% of all drug-related deaths in 2018, a similar number to the previous year. Deaths involving Pregabalin, marketed under the brand name Lyrica, have risen consistently since the drug was first recorded in causing deaths in 2013. The drug’s involvement in deaths has risen from nine in 2016 to 54 in 2018, 28.6% of all drug-related deaths.

Nearly 23% of the deaths in 2018 also mentioned alcohol as a contributing factor.

Of the 15,922 deaths registered in Northern Ireland in 2018 1.2% were drug-related. The deaths accounted for 10 per 100,000 people.

Drug related deaths increased for both men and women from 2017. The rate for men increased from 11 deaths per 100,000 in 2017 to 14.4 in 2018.

The rate increased from 3.7 per 100,000 women in 2017 to 5.9 in 2018.

Of the 2018 deaths, 38.1% (72) were in the 25-34 age group with 26.5% (50) in the 35-44 group.

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