Government to launch register of drug deaths

Cormac O’Keeffe

The index will provide, for the first time, an accurate and full register of all drug-related fatalities.

The Government has agreed in principle to establish the register and is expected to formally announce it in the coming weeks.

“We need the register to find out more accurately the extent of drug-related deaths,” said Dr Joe Barry, medical adviser to the National Drugs Strategy Team, which reports to the Government.

He said the proposal for an index came from them, in conjunction with the Departments of Health and Justice and the Citywide Family Support Network, an umbrella body of families affected by drugs.

According to the general mortality register, operated by the Central Statistics Office, there were 94 drug-related deaths in 2002 and 101 in 2001.

However, this is seen as incomplete and excludes deaths related to drug use, but not recorded as such on death certificates.

“If a drug user dies from a heart attack brought about by respiratory failure because of a drug overdose it might not be recorded as a drug-related death,” said Dr Barry.

He said the index would decide, with other relevant bodies, whether deaths as a result of AIDS or hepatitis C should be included.

Dr Barry said the index would link with coroners, hospitals and gardaí and other places where a possible drug user died.

He said the index would “flag” certain sorts of conditions that would result in a more detailed look at a death certificate.

He said that while there was agreement in principle as to how the system would work, operational issues would not be known until a formal Government announcement was made.

Dr Barry said the index would help inform Government policy.

“The point is not just to have the data, but then act on it, such as identifying ways of intervening, say in relation to overdoses. We have no overdose strategy in Dublin.”

Family groups, such as the Citywide Family Support Network, have called for an index for some time.

Sadie Grace of Citywide said: “We still don’t have accurate figures on the number of deaths from drug-related causes and it is recognised on all sides that the official figures are significantly lower that the real figures.”

The Citywide Family Support Network is holding its sixth annual Service of Commemoration and Hope, in memory of those who have died from drugs, at Sean McDermott Street Church, Dublin, tonight at 7.30pm.

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