AN AVERAGE OF one person dies from a drug overdose every day, according to new figures on drugs-related deaths in Ireland.
The statistics from the Health Research Board also found that the number of people who have died from misuse of cocaine has more than halved in just four years.
A total of 23 people died after using cocaine in 2011, compared to a peak of 66 deaths in 2007, as the Celtic Tiger came to a crashing halt.
Altogether 607 people had drug-related deaths in Ireland in 2011, the most recent year for which figures are available. Of these, 60 per cent (365, or one per day) were due to overdoses. The remaining 242 deaths among drug users were caused by trauma, such as road traffic collisions, or medical causes such as liver disease.
365 deaths by overdosing
Almost two thirds of people who died from overdoses were male, with a median age of 39.
The Health Research Board said there has been a “considerable” increase in the number of deaths involving prescription medication. It also said that alcohol, alone or in combination with other drugs, continues to be one of the main reasons for death by poisoning.
Alcohol was involved in more than one third of poisoning deaths, more than any other drug, and was solely responsible for 17 per cent of the overdosing deaths.
“It is disappointing to see an increase in poisoning deaths in 2011, as the three preceding years all recorded an overall decrease in these deaths,” said Dr Suzi Lyons, a senior researcher at the HRB.
More than half of the overdose deaths involved at least one drug. After alcohol, the most commonly found drugs in polydrug use were diazepam, methadone and anti-depressant medication.
“Our data shows that it is the use of these medications together that is frequently contributing to the death,” said Dr Lyons.
Methadone was implicated in the deaths of 113 people, almost double the figure from the previous year, which the HRB said needed to be investigated. However deaths from heroin have continued to decline, falling from 72 in 2010 to 60 in 2011.
242 non-poisoning deaths
Of the deaths which were indirectly attributed to drug use, 122 were caused by trauma and 125 were due to medical reasons.
Of the trauma deaths, hanging was the most common cause of death, accounting for more than half of the fatalities, followed by road traffic collisions.
The most common medical causes of death were cardiac events and liver disease.
Dr Lyons of the HRB said that mental health issues were likely to have been at the root of many of the deaths.
“The decrease in non-poisoning deaths is overshadowed by the large proportion of hangings occurring in 2011,” said Dr Lyons.
“This finding, in conjunction with the frequency that benzodiazepines and anti-depressant medication are implicated in poisoning deaths, would indicate that a proportion of both poisoning and non-poisoning cases may have had mental health problems, as well as problem drug issues”.
“The evidence in this report supports the need for increased awareness of people with mental health issues attending addiction services”.