Nearly 90 people have died from heroin and other opiates in Cork City in the past 11 years, according to coroner Myra Cullinane.
She told a public meeting of the Cork City Joint Policing Committee (JPC) yesterday that the first heroin-type death she investigated occurred in 2004.
That year, there were two deaths and they gradually increased to a peak of 17 in 2009. Last yea,r there were eight and four so far this year.
“I had never investigated a heroin death prior to 2004,” said Dr Cullinane. “Up to then, this was a city with no presence [of heroin], which was quite unusual in cities of the 21st century.”
Dr Cullinane said the vast majority of heroin users died from overdoses of a cocktail of drugs which also included benzodiazepines such as Valium and Xanex (downers), as well as methadone and alcohol.
She said it was very unusual that anybody would die of just heroin alone.
The coroner said there were 87 such deaths from 2004 to the present and the vast majority of victims were in the 25-29 age group, with 30-34 the next largest. Male victims far outnumbered female ones.
She also analysed where they had died and found the highest number, 28, had passed away at home, 22 in hospitals, eight in hotels, two at Kent Railway Station and even one in prison.
Dr Cullinane said none of those who died had been involved in a methadone treatment programme, or had engaged with drug prevention services.
She said poly-substance abuse was prevalent and that she was still in the process of analysing data on drug-related deaths, which she hopes to publish in due course.
Poly-drug use was also highlighted by David Lane, HSE South co-ordinator of drug and alcohol services, who said an open and honest discussion on alcohol abuse is also needed, as it is a stepping stone to other drugs.
Mr Lane said his staff deal with about 2,000 people a year who misuse drugs and alcohol.
“We are no longer dealing with people with single substance abuse. I is now poly-substance abuse,” he said.
He also said the authorities have to “tackle the aggressive marketing of alcohol”.
Declan O’Brien, head of HSE addiction services and director of Arbour House treatment centre, said when he started working with substance abusers in 1996, around 90% of them presented with alcohol problems.
“Some were using cannabis and there were some increasing amounts of ecstasy. Around 2000, cocaine was coming in and by the mid 2000s amounts of heroin were coming in, which developed very quickly,” Mr O’Brien said.“Practically all of our clients will start on alcohol in their mid-teens and move on. They come to use primarily because something has gone wrong in their lives.
“The problems we’re seeing are becoming altogether more complex. When I started it was about single substances. Now we have poly-substance abusers, using alcohol and different cocktails of drugs and many also have emotional issues.”
He said his organisation is involved with harm-reduction amongst addicts and the needle exchange programme was introduced in the city to prevent transmission of serious viral infections.
“Fortunately, in screening to date, there has been no HIV or Hepatitis B noticed,” he said.
Superintendent Tom Myers, who is charge of policing the city centre, said gardaí are anxious to crack down on drink-related crime. He said that, to this end, last year they carried out spot checks on 1,062 licensed premises, compared to 661 in 2013.
Supt Myers said 19 offences for selling to underage people were detected last year and a further 12 so far this year.
He said he would like to pay tribute to responsible publicans and off-licence owners who were abiding by the law.
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