Big jump in drug-related deaths

Males accounted for three in four deaths
  • Deborah Condon

Drug-related deaths in Ireland jumped by 71% between 2004 and 2016, the latest figures from the Health Research Board (HRB) have revealed.

According to the figures, 736 people died from a drug-related death in 2016 compared to 431 in 2004. This means that in 2016, at least two people died every day as a result of poisoning, trauma or medical causes linked to drug use.

Half of all drug-related deaths in 2016 were in people aged 42 or younger, while three-quarters of deaths occurred in males.

When it came to deaths by poisoning, prescription drugs were implicated in 73% of cases, with benzodiazepines the most common prescription drug group implicated.

Benzodiazepines are sedatives that are often prescribed to encourage sleep or reduce stress and anxiety. However, they are also sometimes used to ease the comedown from stimulant drugs such as cocaine and ecstasy.

Meanwhile, the number of cocaine-related deaths fell slightly from 45 in 2015 to 41 in 2016.

The HRB emphasised that polydrug use, i.e. using more than one drug at a time, significantly increases the risk of suffering a fatal overdose. In 2004, 118 deaths were due to polydrug use, with an average of two drugs taken. However in 2016, this had risen to 219 deaths, with an average of four different drugs taken.

"Behind these figures are lives lost and lives cut short. This HRB report clearly illustrates the impact that drug use has on families and society. The collection of data on drug deaths is essential to understand trends and help service providers design appropriate interventions and help save lives," commented HRB chief executive, Dr Darrin Morrissey.

Meanwhile, according to HRB senior researcher, Dr Suzi Lyons, alcohol 'remains the number one drug implicated in deaths, alone or with other drugs'.

"Alcohol was implicated in 132 poisoning deaths in 2016, which accounts for more than one-third of all poisonings," she noted.

The full figures can be viewed here.


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