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Almost 800 people died from drug use in 2017, new figures show

A third of overdoses involved alcohol while more than half involved prescription drugs.

Drugs including heroin, cocaine and alcohol contributed to deaths in 2017.
Drugs including heroin, cocaine and alcohol contributed to deaths in 2017.
Image: Shutterstock/Leszek Czerwonka

ALMOST 800 PEOPLE died from drug overdoses, or from the effects of drug use, in 2017, according to new figures from the Health Research Board. 

The latest figures for 2017 show 376 people died from a drug overdose that year, with a further 410 deaths caused as a result of medical conditions or trauma among people who use drugs. 

Several different types of drugs including alcohol, cocaine, prescription drugs and heroin were recorded in the drug-related deaths that year.  

Prescription drugs were involved in 253 of the 376 deaths caused by overdosing or poisoning, while around a third, or 125 deaths were caused by alcohol poisoning. 

Benzodiazepines (benzos) were the most common prescription drug involved in drug-related deaths – they were implicated in 139 individual deaths. Methadone was implicated in 95 of all drug poisonings. 

Meanwhile, heroin was implicated in 77 overdoses, while cocaine-related overdoses increased from 42 in 2016 to 53 in 2017. 

The data, collated in the drug-related death index, is collated from four sources: coroner’s reports, the hospital in-patient enquiry scheme, the CSO and the Central Treatment List. 

Mixing

Some 218 deaths were caused as a result of mixing drugs – an average of four different drugs were taken in these cases. 

The report found that alcohol was often mixed with opioids, and heroin was often mixed with benzos. 

All benzos-related deaths, 139 in total, involved other drugs, mainly opioids, while 64 alcohol-related deaths involved other drugs, mainly opioids.

“‘Behind these numbers are people whose lives were cut short. By collecting this data, the HRB can monitor trends over time which helps service providers design appropriate interventions to support recovery and save lives,” Dr Darrin Morrissey, chief executive at the HRB said. 

Meanwhile, of the more than 400 non-poisoning deaths, 196 were caused by drug-related trauma, while 214 were caused due to medical issues. 

Deaths due to hanging increased from 98 in 2016 to 114 in 2017. The majority of these involved men but there was also an increase in the number of women who died by hanging from 16 in 2016 to 25 in 2017. 

Six in every 10 people who died this way had a history of mental health problems. 

Another 56 people died as a result of cardiac events. The average age for deaths due to medical causes was 49 years in 2017.

“More than one person died from overdose each day in 2017,” Ena Lynn, research officer at the HRB said. 

“They would typically have been male, aged in their 30s or 40s and taking a mixture of drugs, many of which are legal, such as methadone, alcohol, or benzodiazepines.

“A cocktail of drugs was present in three in five poisoning deaths. Mixing drugs is known to cause more complications and increases the risk of overdose as is evident in this HRB data.”

Tragedy

Tony Duffin, CEO of the Ana Liffey Project said: “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.”

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The board said the total number of deaths is likely to be revised upwards as new data from closed inquest files becomes available. 

Yesterday, a report from the Policing Forum Network found that children are becoming involved in criminal activity in Dublin with some as young as 10 or 11-years-0ld, are also groomed to be “runners and carriers” of drugs. 

Young children, the report notes, are also considered “expendable” and “plentiful.

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