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Dublin: 14°C Wednesday 17 August 2022

Two people died every day in 2015 over drug use with alcohol the number one drug

Almost 20,000 potential life years were lost in 2015 alone.

Image: Phil McDonald via Shutterstock

ALMOST TWO PEOPLE in Ireland died each day in 2015 as a result of overdoses, trauma or medical causes linked to drug use.

According to the latest figures from the Health Research Board (HRB) a total of 695 people who used drugs died in 2015.

That’s slightly lower than the 719 reported in 2014 but a 61% increase compared to the 431 reported in 2004. There have been 7,422 deaths among people who use drugs since 2004.

Many of these deaths were premature – half of all the deaths in 2015 were aged 41 or younger and almost three-in-four (503) were men.

Alcohol was the number one drug implicated in deaths, either alone or with other drugs. It was implicated in 107 deaths in 2015, compared to 117 deaths in 2014.

Interim chief executive at the HRB Dr Mairead O’Driscoll said:

While the number of deaths from alcohol decreased slightly this year, alcohol remains the number one drug implicated in deaths, alone or with other drugs, over the reporting period.
Alcohol was implicated in almost one-in-three overdoses – also known as poisoning deaths – during 2015.

Prescription drugs 

A vast group of prescription drugs were implicated in 232 of the 348 overdoses in 2015 – which is two in every three.

Benzodiazepines were the most common prescription drug group implicated. Diazepam (a benzodiazepine) was the most common single prescription drug implicated in 101 (29%) of all poisonings.

The antiepileptic drug Pregabalin, which is also prescribed for chronic pain and some anxiety conditions, increased by 69%, from 26 deaths in 2014, to 44 in 2015.

drugs Source: Health Research Board

Opiates were the main drug group implicated in overdoses with heroin being implicated in 82 deaths in 2015 compared to 94 in 2014.

Methadone was implicated in a quarter of overdoses (86, 25%), while cocaine-related deaths increased by 110% since 2010 to 2015 – from 21 to 44.

Drug cocktails

Drug cocktails, known as polydrug use, is a significant risk factor for fatal overdoses.

In 2015, 64% or 222 deaths were due to a cocktail of drugs, with an average of four different drugs taken.

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O’Driscoll said, “The number of deaths involving prescription drugs or cocktails of different drugs remains high.

Mixing drugs increases the risk of death, which is clearly reflected in these figures. This year we continue to see an increase in the number of poisonings from cocaine.

Benzodiazepines and other drugs were involved in 91% of deaths where methadone was implicated, 71% of deaths where heroin was implicated and 56% of deaths where alcohol was implicated.

Almost all deaths (93%) where cocaine was implicated also involved other drugs.

The main cause of drug deaths after overdoses was hanging which accounted for 83 deaths. Three-in-five (59%) people who died as a result of hanging had a history of mental health problems.

Some 191 people also died due to medical causes such as cardiac events.

The median age for deaths due to medical causes has increased from 38 years in 2004, to 49 years in 2015, which may indicate an ageing cohort of drug users in Ireland.

Commenting on the data research officer at the Health Research Board said Ena Lynn said, “These statistics give us just some insight into the impact that drug use has on people and society.

We should not lose sight of the fact that each one of these stats is a life lost and a life cut short.

Looking at the age of individuals who died in 2015 and what their life expectancy would have been based on their year of birth, the report found that almost 20,000 potential life years were lost in 2015 alone.

Read: Prescription drugs used in three out of every four overdoses>

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