More people dying from opioid overdoses than crashes

GP highlights urgent need for injecting centres, which a recent Bill has paved way for

New law will allow Ireland’s first supervised injecting facility. Photograph: PA Wire

New law will allow Ireland’s first supervised injecting facility. Photograph: PA Wire

 

More than 7,000 people died from opioid overdose in Ireland in the 10 years up to 2014, a Dublin GP has said.

Prof Gerard Bury said if the death toll from such overdoses was occurring from any other health issue it would attract much more attention. He said there is an urgent need for supervised injection centres in a number of locations in Dublin.

The Misuse of Drugs (Supervised Injecting Facilities) Bill 2017 passed all stages in the Oireachtas yesterday. The Bill will allow the Minister for Health Simon Harris to issue a licence, with conditions, to operate Ireland’s first supervised injecting facility.

Such a facility would provide a controlled environment where drug users may self-administer, by injection, drugs they have brought with them.

Prof Bury, who is professor of general practice at UCD and also has a general practice in Dolphin’s Barn in Dublin, said the number of people who died from opioid overdose in 2014 was considerably higher than the number of road deaths the same year.

He told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that in the 10 years up to 2014, more than 7,000 people have died from opioid overdose in Ireland. The majority were from areas of social deprivation, and the average age at the time of death of 39.

Prof Bury said that in 2014 there were 254 deaths from opioid overdose. According to statistics from the RSA in the same year, there were 196 road deaths.

“At present there are 10,000-15,000 people in Ireland addicted to opiates, most in the cities.” He said that they inject at home, on the streets or in the places where they purchase the drugs.

Supervised injection centres will provide an opportunity for drug addicts to inject in a safe environment with medical supervision, which will reduce the potential to overdose, he said.

Prof Bury said a study had been done using information from the emergency services in Dublin – the fire service and the ambulance service – mapping each overdose death, which gave a clear picture of where such deaths were occurring. The study identified four key areas in the city where such a service was needed, he said.

He added that similar services in Vancouver and Sydney had been very successful. It is anticipated that the first facility in Dublin should be open before the end of the year.

There are now almost 90 drug consumption rooms operating around the world. The Department of Health said on Wednesday evidence from these pointed to a reduction in fatal overdoses and transmission of blood-borne diseases; a decrease in the incidence of public injecting; significant reductions in drug-related litter; and no increase in the use of drugs or of drug-related crime.

No decision has been taken on the specific location of an injecting facility.