Philly McMahon says treating people who use drugs as criminals does not work – as latest report reveals that two people a day die from a drug related death in Ireland.

March 8, 2019

Figures released today by the Health Research Board show that there were 736 drug related deaths in Ireland in 2016 – 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; and non-poisoning deaths – those from trauma or medical events as a result of drug use. 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 736 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 was just 42, meaning a lot of years of life lost unnecessarily. In modern societies we don’t expect people to die at 42. 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.”

Injecting drug use remains a significant risk factor, with 34 deaths among people who were injecting at the time of death, two-thirds of which were in Dublin City Centre, highlighting the need to get the supervised injecting facility open as soon as possible. As Duffin noted:

“People are literally dying of overdoses in the streets. No-one has ever died of an overdose in a drug consumption room. We’re fully behind our colleagues in Merchants Quay Ireland as they work to get this important service up and running with the support of the statutory bodies. The supervised injecting facility will save lives and save money, and we need one badly in Dublin”.

Since 2004 when the NDRDI was started, drug related deaths have risen from 431 to 736 – a 71% increase. Dublin GAA star Philly McMahon has been very public in calling for the decriminalisation of people who use drugs, a move which will reduce the stigma associated with having an issue with drugs, and something which he reiterated today:

“Look, treating people who use drugs as criminals does not work and needs to change. Over 700 people died as a result of their drug use in 2016, yet if any of those people had come into contact with the state while in possession of drugs our response would have been to prosecute them using the criminal law. That makes no sense – at the moment we’re treating people who use drugs as criminals and yet more people are using drugs than ever before, more people are dying than ever before. We need to live up to our national policy and deal with personal drug use solely as a health issue – we need a focus on health to keep people safer from harm”.  

The decriminalisation of people who use drugs is something Duffin also agrees with:

“Decriminalisation is not a magic wand that will cure all the ills associated with drug use. However, it is the glue that binds the elements of a person centred, health focused drug policy together. People who use drugs should be offered health interventions according to their level of need. We cannot expect to be able to do this effectively while our laws say that someone who possesses drugs for their own personal use is a criminal for that fact alone.” 

The full ‘National Drug Related Deaths’ Index report is available to download from the HRB website at and An infographic that outlines key data is also available for download.

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