December 12, 2019
Figures released today by the Health Research Board show that there were 786 drug related deaths in Ireland in 2017 – over two people a day. The National Drug Related Deaths Index (NDRDI), which is compiled on an annual basis from a variety of sources nationwide is the most reliable source of data on drug related deaths in the state.
As with previous years, deaths are categorised as poisoning deaths – those from overdose, of which there were 376 in 2017; and non-poisoning deaths – those from trauma or medical events as a result of drug use, of which there were 410.
Ana Liffey Drug Project CEO, Tony Duffin, said it was important not to lose sight of the individual tragedies behind the numbers:
“Each one of those 786 is a person – someone’s child. Someone’s son, daughter or friend. Drug related deaths are not just an individual tragedy, but a tragedy for families and broader communities. What is particularly concerning is that the average age of those that died of overdose was just 43, meaning a lot of years of life lost unnecessarily. In modern societies we don’t expect people to die at 43. We know that people can and do recover from substance use issues in their lives, and we need to make sure that our policies increasingly support that happening.”
Drilling into the figures in more detail also indicates that where people were injecting drugs at the time of death, 40% were in Dublin city and 60% of them were alone. Duffin noted that such figures underscore the need for drug consumption rooms like safe injecting facilities in Dublin:
“We’ve had legislation in place since 2017 to open a pilot supervised injecting facility in Dublin city centre. Such services ensure that people do not have to inject alone, as well as being supported to access other services that could help. As has been well documented in the media, the proposed development of a facility at Merchant’s Quay Ireland is currently tied up in the planning appeals process and we very much hope that the appeal will be successful and the development can proceed. However, we need to hope for the best and plan for the worst, so we need to make sure there is a clear plan b in place – such as the use of mobile units – to ensure that government meets its commitment to deliver this lifesaving service”
Another interesting data point was the increase of 34% in deaths involving alprazolam, a short acting benzodiazepine, from 47 in 2016 to 63 in 2017. On this point, Duffin noted that changes in the tablet market had been a matter of concern for some time:
“It saddens me but doesn’t surprise me to see a rise in deaths related to benzodiazepines. We had noticed changes in the street market some time ago, and have been doing work this year with our colleagues in the Health Research Board and the EMCDDA on the street tablet market, so we can better understand the issues and tailor our responses accordingly. We hope to deliver our report in January”