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"The stereotype of overdose is a person with a needle in their arm"

Today is International Overdose Awareness Day.

Image: Shutterstock/Nenov Brothers Images

Updated at 2.40pm

IN 2012, 350 people died in Ireland from overdoses – twice as many people as those who died in traffic accidents that same year.

Today is International Overdose Awareness Day, a time to draw attention to the impact overdoses have across the world.

The Ana Liffey Drug Project is using the day to raise awareness of the devastating effects drug overdoses have on public health here in Ireland.

There were an estimated 183,000 drug-related deaths across the world in 2012 – the most recent official statistics – most of which were overdoses.

Ana Liffey pointed out that the 2015 statistics from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction show that Ireland is in the top five EU countries for overdose.

Every non-fatal overdose can also have adverse health effects, and overdose does not just affect the individual involved.

Joe Doyle, HSE National Social Inclusion Planning Specialist, said:

It is important to recognise that behind every death there is a family and a community that is suffering.

Preventing overdose

But overdose is preventable. Tony Duffin, Director of the Ana Liffey Drug Project, said that there is “a lot being done in Ireland regarding overdose, by both the HSE and other service providers like ourselves”.

However, as we move into 2016 and the end of our current National Drug Strategy, there is a need to be more focused and coordinated on this important public health issue. We believe that a firm target for a reduction in overdose deaths on a year-on-year basis needs to be set, so we can measure the impact of what is being done and adjust our focus as needed.

Overdose is a complex issue, as Duffin explained: “The stereotype of overdose is a person with a needle in their arm. However, the reality is that while opiates are a serious problem and were implicated in over 60% of overdose deaths in 2012, they are far from the whole story.”

He said that in over half of overdose deaths, the person had consumed more than one substance, so ‘polydrug use’ is a huge issue.

Over a fifth of overdose deaths in 2012 were attributable to alcohol alone.

“We need cross-cutting measures to deal with the risk in a pragmatic and focused way,” said Duffin.

What kind of measures might work?

In addition to the setting of the aforementioned target, Duffin said that there needs to be a clear strategy.

“Having a simple, clear national overdose prevention strategy as envisaged by the current National Drug Strategy is important,” he said.

Ensuring timely access to treatment for people at risk of overdose is also critical.

He added that in terms of opiates, provision of antagonists like Naloxone to drug users is “a step in the right direction”, and the centre is pleased to be working with the HSE and other stakeholders on a project in this regard.

In addition, he said that minimum unit pricing for alcohol has been shown to reduce alcohol deaths in other jurisdictions.

In terms of direct services, Ana Liffey has been vocal in lobbying for medically supervised injecting centres and accessible residential services for polydrug users.

Read: ‘Deeply worrying’ increase in people huffing butane in Dublin city centre>

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