More than 730 drug deaths a year

Alcohol and prescription drug overdoses and hangings among drugs users are driving an ongoing rise in drug-related deaths, figures show.

More than 730 drug deaths a year

Alcohol and prescription drug overdoses and hangings among drugs users are driving an ongoing rise in drug-related deaths, figures show.

Fatalities linked to drug use reached a new high in 2016, with 736 people losing their lives.

The figure is an increase of one death on 2015 (735), but the two years together represent a peak since records began in 2014.

The figure for drug-related deaths — equating to more than two people a day — compares to road fatality figures of 186 in 2016 (148 in 2018).

Since 2004, the number of drug-related deaths have increased from 431, a jump of over 70%.

While overdoses (known as poisonings) have fallen more recently (from 400 in 2013 to 354 in 2016), non-poisoning deaths, including hangings, have increased (from 307 to 382).

The National Drug-Related Deaths Index, published by the Health Research Board, shows:

  • Alcohol-related deaths have increased by 18%, from 112 in 2015 to 132 in 2016 — cementing its position as the number one drug implicated in overdoses
  • Prescription drugs as a whole were implicated in 258 deaths, representing almost three in four of all 354 deaths from overdoses
  • Methadone (legally prescribed to treat heroin addiction) and the prescribed sedative Diazepam are the most common prescription drugs implicated in overdoses
  • Cocktails of drugs were involved in almost two thirds of poisoning deaths in 2016, compared to 44% in 2004 — with an average of four drugs involved
  • Hangings among drug users trebled since 2004, with 93 cases in 2016, with three in four people who died having a history of mental health problems
  • Deaths resulting from liver disease have jumped from eight in 2009, to 21 in 2013 and to 45 in 2016

The index shows there have been 8,207 drug-related deaths since 2004.

“Behind these figures are lives lost and lives cut short,” said HRB chief executive Darrin Morrissey.

“The HRB report clearly illustrates the impact drug use has on families and society.”

HRB senior researcher Suzi Lyons said the number of alcohol deaths increased in 2016.

“Alcohol remains the number one drug implicated in deaths, alone or with other drugs, over the reporting period,” she said.

Alcohol on its own was responsible for 16% (55) of all poisoning deaths in 2016, up from 13% in 2015.

Dr Lyons said prescription drugs and cocktails of drugs contributed significantly to deaths from poisoning.

Prescription drugs were implicated in almost seven in every ten poisoning deaths in 2016,” she said.

“Methadone and diazepam are the most common prescription drugs implicated.”

She said there were new prescription drugs emerging in recent years, such as Pregabalin, used to treat epilepsy. This drug was implicated in 14 deaths in 2013, but jumped to 65 deaths in 2016.

A total of 258 deaths (73% of poisonings) were linked to prescription drugs. Benzodiazepines (prescribed tranquillisers) and methadone were the most common drugs involved.

Deaths involving heroin decreased again in 2016, from 83 in 2015 to 72 in 2016. This compares to 114 such deaths in 2009.

Other figures show cocaine-related deaths decreased from 45 in 2015 to 41 in 2016. The super-potent fentanyl was involved in seven deaths in 2016.

The HRB said 2016 figures were likely to be revised “upwards” as new data became available from closed inquest files.

Merchants Quay Ireland CEO Paula Byrne said: “Addiction is destroying the physical and mental health of people, people are dying, and this sadly has become the norm. We must ask ourselves, as a society, are we OK with over 700 drug-related deaths?

“There needs to be a greater investment in support services for people in addiction. We need more rehabilitation and detox beds.”

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