Drug-related deaths more than double in North in decade

People living in most deprived areas five times more likely to die from drugs

Drug-related deaths involving cocaine in the North increased from 13 in 2017 to 28 in 2018,  the highest level on record. Photograph: Getty Images

Drug-related deaths involving cocaine in the North increased from 13 in 2017 to 28 in 2018, the highest level on record. Photograph: Getty Images

 

The number of drug-related deaths in the North has more than doubled in the past decade, according to the latest figures from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA)

In 2018 there were 189 drug-related deaths in the North, the highest number of such deaths ever recorded in the North. This was an increase of more than 50 deaths on the drugs fatalities from 2017, when 136 people died.

The figures, which were analysed by UK Addiction Treatment Centres (UKAT), also reveal that people living in the most deprived areas of the North are five times more likely to die from a drug-related death than those in the least deprived areas.

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

“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.”

Of the 189 deaths in 2018, 72 (38.1 per cent) were in the 25-34 age group, with a further 50 (26.5 per cent) in the 35-44 age group.

Half of these deaths – 95 – were young men aged 25-44, and in total male deaths of all ages accounted for 70 per cent of all drug-related deaths at 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 to 14.4 per 100,000 males ,while for females the rate rose from 3.7 to 5.9 per 100,000 females.

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.

Cocaine

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

Diazepam was listed in 40.2 per cent of all drug-related deaths in 2018, a similar proportion to that recorded in previous years.

Drug-related deaths involving pregabalin, however, have risen consistently since its first appearance in the statistics in 2013. The annual number of deaths involving this controlled substance rose from nine in 2016, to 33 in 2017 and 54 in 2018.

The latest figure sees pregabalin appearing in 28.6 per cent of all drug-related deaths.

Almost 23 per cent of drug-related deaths in 2018 also mentioned alcohol on the death certificate, a proportion which has remained relatively consistent over the last five years.

Mr Albuquerque said NISRA had provided a “stark and dark report”. These statistics must better inform local policy and budget decision-makers “in order to proactively improve the lives of vulnerable people living in Northern Ireland”.