Higher rate of drug deaths

Ireland has the third-highest rate of drug deaths out of 30 European countries, according to new figures.

The data, collected by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, shows that Irish death levels are almost four times the average among the 27 EU countries.

The agency also collected figures for three non-EU countries: Norway, Croatia, and Turkey.

Comparing the number of drug-induced deaths, based on either 2009 or 2010 data, it found:

* Estonia had 75 deaths per million population (204 among 15- to 39-year olds);

* Norway recorded 59 deaths per million (87 in 15- to 39-year-olds);

* Ireland had 45 deaths per million (87 among 15- to 39-year-olds).

Rates in many western European countries are much lower than Ireland, with six deaths per million in France, 10 in Spain and, in two countries with liberal drug policies, Portugal and the Netherlands, the rates are five and six respectively.

However, the EU agency said the data in most countries were underestimates.

The National Drug-Related Death Index in Ireland, compiled by the Health Research Board, is considered comprehensive and may be a factor in why Ireland is near the top. But there has been concern for some time at the level of Irish drug-related deaths.

The National Drugs Strategy 2009-2016, launched in 2009, set the development of a response to drug-related deaths as a key goal. The central action to achieve this was a national overdose prevention strategy.

An HSE spokesperson said a working group had prepared a draft report on a proposed strategy.

Tim Bingham of the Irish Needle Exchange Forum called for the introduction of the overdose strategy and said he “couldn’t understand” why it was taking so long. He said one practical step that should be taken was to follow Scotland’s example and provide naloxone to drug users suspected of having taken an overdose.

“We know it works. In Scotland they have a community naloxone programme, and it has resulted in a reduction of overdoses,” said Mr Bingham, adding that the medication brings people out of a coma.

The HSE spokesperson said naloxone was a “prescription only” product, but could be used by emergency medical personnel.

“This ensures paramedics and appropriately-trained ambulance personnel are entitled to administer naloxone in any circumstances where a person is experiencing an opiod overdose.”

It is not know to what extent this happens in practice.

Last February, drugs strategy minister Róisín Shortall said naloxone was generally used in hospitals to treat overdose. She said any consideration of wider distribution awaited the completion of the overdose strategy “in the coming months”.

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