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More than 1,000 drug overdoses in Belfast in a year

A total of 1,134 patients were admitted to hospitals across Belfast during 2015/16 following an intentional or accidental drug overdose
Andrew Madden

THERE were more than 1,000 emergency admissions to Belfast's hospitals due to drug overdoses last year, amid warnings the problem is reaching "epidemic" proportions.

A total of 1,134 patients were admitted to hospitals across the city for treatment following either intentional or accidental overdose during 2015/16.

There were also 156 other hospital admissions related to drug use, up a quarter on the previous year.

The figures were disclosed to The Irish News via a freedom of information request.

There have been at least three drug related deaths in the city since the new year.

In 2016 there were more than 1,500 drug seizures in Belfast by the PSNI, accounting for almost a third of Northern Ireland's total of 5,032.

In the year to December 2, there were a total of 769 convictions in the Belfast court division where at least one charge was drug-related.

This represents an increase of nearly 20 per cent in the last two years and a rise of almost a third over five years.

There were also 374 defendants still being tried for drugs offences in live cases at the end of the year.

The Irish News revealed last month that uses of an emergency drug to save lives in the event of a heroin overdose had doubled in the past year.

Paramedics had to administer Naxolone 420 times to reverse the deadly effects of the drug.

The apparent rise in heroin use is in line with the amount of opiate powder seized by the PSNI.

A total of 1.4 kilograms was seized in the the past 12 months - an 11-fold increase on 2015.

Alex Bunting of Addiction NI said there are growing numbers of opiate users injecting drugs in Belfast.

He said there is also "poly-drug misuse", where people are abusing several different substances at the same time and effectively turning themselves into "human guinea pigs", leading to overdoses.

"What we're seeing are year-on-year increases across many different areas - if you look at drug-related illness, drug-related deaths and even societal issues you're seeing increases. Even policing it and the cost of policing it is rising.

"It's now got to the point where the services and the amount of resources put into dealing with the problem do not meet the size of the problem.

"When we look right across the board, its easy to see that if we don't do something soon, it will get to an epidemic stage."

Mr Bunting also said a strategy in place for dealing with the problem was "grossly out of date".

The Department of Health's "New Strategic Direction for Alcohol and Drugs" has not been update since 2006.

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