Ireland among worst for drug deaths


Ireland has one of the highest levels of drug-related deaths in Europe, according to a United Nations report on the global drug market.

It shows that Ukraine, Iceland and Ireland experienced some of the highest mortality rates in Europe, with over 100 drug-related deaths per  million inhabitants aged between 15 and 64.

These figures are twice the European average, although the report says some countries may be significantly underestimating the number of deaths.

The World Drug Report 2011 by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime also shows that while the heroin problem is stabilising in most European countries, prevalence rates appear to be increasing slightly in Ireland and Sweden. However, opiate use is still more prevalent in the UK and almost twice as prevalent in eastern European countries such as Latvia and Estonia.

Ireland also figured prominently when it came to cocaine use. Denmark, Ireland, Italy, Spain and the UK were listed as having the highest rates of prevalence of the drug.

Health Research Board senior researcher Dr Suzi Lyons said the figures on drug deaths accurately reflected the problem in Ireland. However, she said one of the reasons the Irish rate was significantly higher than many other countries was because their monitoring systems were not as comprehensive.

Dr Lyons also urged caution in interpreting the figures for drug prevalence, noting that some information related to data collected up to five years ago.

The UN's figures also show dramatic differences in the price of drugs across the world depending on the distance it has travelled and how many times it has changed hands. It was most expensive in Australia and the US, although there are major difference within Europe. In Ireland the typical cost of a gram of heroin in 2009 was €147, compared to €48 in the UK and €23 in Belgium.

In general, the UN report indicates that between 3 and 6 per cent of the world’s population used illicit substances at least once during the previous year.

Cannabis was by far the most widely used illicit drug consumed in Ireland and the rest of the world, followed by amphetamine-type stimulants like ecstasy and opiates such as heroin.

While there were stable or downward trends for heroin and cocaine use across the globe, the report said this was being offset by increases in the use of “legal highs” and prescription drugs. There was a significant reduction in global opium production in 2010 as a result of disease in opium poppy plants in Afghanistan.

Officials also say there was a significant decline in potential cocaine manufacturing, reflecting falling cocaine production in Colombia. This was offset by increases Peru and Bolivia.

The production of amphetamine-type stimulants and cannabis is more difficult to estimate because they are produced in dozens of countries.

Most cannabis seizures in Europe originated primarily in Morocco, but there has been growing evidence of production closed to home. Some 29 European countries - including Ireland - reported domestic cultivation of cannabis herb during 2008.

In contrast to most parts of the world, non-medical use of prescription drugs has not been regarded as a major problem in Europe so far. The highest levels of non-medical use of prescription opioids - drugs with morphine-like effects - have been reported from Northern Ireland.

Other countries in Europe reporting a substantial proportion of treatment demand for sedatives and tranquilisers are found among the Nordic countries, such as Sweden, Norway and Finland.