679 deaths linked to drug misuse show 2013 figures

The number of drug-related deaths reached a peak in 2013 with 679 fatalities, new figures show.
679 deaths linked to drug misuse show 2013 figures

It means that, on average, 13 people died every week, directly or indirectly, from illegal drugs, prescribed pills, and alcohol.

The drug toll in 2013 is more than three and a half times the number of road fatalities in the same year (188).

The statistics, obtained by the Irish Examiner, are compiled and analysed by the National Drug-Related Deaths Index and are due to be published tomorrow.

The number of deaths have increased from 609 in 2010, to 657 in 2011, and to 658 in 2012, before jumping in 2013 to 679.

Fatalities have risen by almost 60% since the first index report was published in 2004, when 432 deaths were recorded.

The fatalities show an increase in poisonings, or drug overdoses, from 361 in 2012 to 387 in 2013, up 7%.

At the same time, there was a slight reduction in non-poisoning deaths, from 297 to 292. This category includes traumatic causes, such as hangings and drownings, and medical causes, where drugs were a factor.

Based on 2012 figures, Ireland was calculated by the European drugs agency as having the fourth highest number of drug deaths in Europe, although Ireland is considered to have a more comprehensive reporting system than many countries.

Opiates (methadone and heroin) accounted for the biggest number of poisonings in 2013 and the number of deaths involving those drugs rose from 2012.

Benzodiazepines (prescribed tranquillisers) were involved in around 40% of poisonings. They were typically taken in conjunction with either methadone, heroin or alcohol.

The figures also show a sharp rise in deaths, though from low numbers, linked to new psychoactive substances, often referred to as head-shop drugs, with 28 in 2013, compared to eight in recent years.

These include a large number of high-profile deaths caused by powerful amphetamine derivatives PMMA and PMA.

Tony Duffin, director of Ana Liffey Drug Project, said that while he had not seen the figures, drug overdoses were happening every day.

“Every death by overdose is one family’s devastating tragedy,” said Mr Duffin.

“Sadly, overdose continues to be a major health issue in Ireland, with people dying on a daily basis.”

Mr Duffin called for the development of a National Overdose Prevention Strategy, which, he said, “has not yet been delivered”.

This is despite the fact that the strategy was promised in the 2009-2016 National Drugs Strategy.

He added: “Ana Liffey Drug Project is supported by the HSE and other state bodies to carry out overdose- awareness work at traditionally risky times of year, including Christmas, but there is a real need for an overarching national strategy.

“We need to set clear targets aimed at reducing overdoses year on year. There are parents who will face the New Year having lost a child to overdose. We need an extraordinary effort.”

The figures are being published on the same day as the Cabinet is expected to consider draft legislation proposing the establishment of medically supervised injecting centres.

The proposal is being pushed by drugs strategy minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin and envisages the establishment of State-registered centres where the possession and use of drugs is legal, but medically supervised.

The centres are seen as a means of reducing street drug use, cutting overdoses, and engaging with chaotic users.

The heads of bill had been sent out to relevant departments for their consideration and their views will form part of the Cabinet’s deliberations.

However, with a packed legislative schedule before the next election, it is not clear how the bill, if backed by the Cabinet, will progress.

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