Drug deaths in Northern Ireland highest ever recorded

Dessie Blackadder


Dessie Blackadder

The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) has revealed that in 2018, the highest number of drug related and drug-misuse deaths were recorded.

The Ballymena Guardian has been consistently highlighting the damage caused by drugs in local society with 2018/2019 being especially worrying periods.

The report, analysed by addiction treatment firm UKAT, reveals 189 drug-related deaths registered in NI in 2018; more than double what was recorded a decade ago and a staggering 40% more than the previous year, up from 136 back in 2017.

Collectively, the figures show that of the 189 drug-related deaths in 2018, 72 (38.1%) were in the 25-34 age group with a further 50 (26.5%) in the 35-44 age group, indicating that more young people living in Northern Ireland are dying from drugs.

Worryingly, half (95) of these deaths were young men aged 25-44 and in total, male deaths of all ages accounted for 70% of all drug-related deaths in 2018 (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 11.0 per 100,000 males in 2017 to 14.4; for females the equivalent rate rose from 3.7 per 100,000 females to 5.9, stark and concerning rises.

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.

Drug-related deaths involving cocaine increased from 13 in 2017 to 28 in 2018 and 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 these statistics in 2013; the annual number of deaths involving this controlled substance rose from 9 in 2016, to 33 in 2017 and 54 in 2018. The latest figure sees pregabalin appearing in 28.6% of all drug related deaths.

Nuno Albuquerque, a drug addiction treatment expert at UKAT (www.ukat.co.uk) comments on today’s findings;

“Today’s report from the NISRA paints an extremely worrying picture for those living with a drug problem in Northern Ireland. 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.

“Insight like this is meant to better inform local policy and budget decision makers, in order to proactively improve the lives of vulnerable people living in Northern Ireland. We’re keen to hear what positive steps are going to be taken with regards to drug and alcohol treatment and prevention services after today’s stark and dark report.”

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

The statistics also indicate that there are notably higher numbers of drug-related deaths in areas of deprivation across Northern Ireland. People living in the most deprived areas are five times more likely to die from a drug-related death than those in the least deprived areas.

For help and support with drug addiction, visit www.ukat.co.uk/drugs/v1/   

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