Northern Ireland news

Drug-related deaths double in two years

The number of people using illegal drugs across Ireland has risen since 2010/11
Andrew Madden

THE number of drug-related deaths recorded by the coroner has almost doubled in the space of two years, it can be revealed.

Last year, 20 rulings where drugs were listed as the cause of death were handed down at inquest hearings in Northern Ireland. In 2015 this figure stood at 11.

Already this year, there have been 10 such cases closed by the coroner.

Inquests are held in order to determine precisely how, when and where someone died if their death was sudden, violent or unnatural.

In recent years there has been an increase in the numbers of cases where "legal highs" or prescription medications have been listed as the cause of death.

In January, an inquest heard how a homeless woman who died in a Belfast city centre doorway was killed by a "legal high".

Catherine Kenny (32), originally from Downpatrick, was found outside a vacant store in Donegall Place in April last year.

Last month, it was ruled that 18-year-old Aaron Strong had died after taking a cocktail of prescription medications.

The teen, from Glenalina Road in west Belfast, died four days after he was found unresponsive at a friend's house in April last year.

Aaron Strong died in April 2016 after taking a combination of prescription drugs

In the same month, coroner Joe McCrisken also ruled that drugs, namely ecstasy and cocaine, were the cause of death in the case of Caitlin McVeigh-Conlon, also aged 18 and from west Belfast.

The court heard how the mother-of-one died at her Poleglass home after suffering from one or more fatal, drug-induced seizures.

Caitlin McVeigh-Conlon (left) pictured with her mother, Paula Conlon

Earlier this month, the PSNI revealed that it is carrying out investigations into the sudden deaths of four young people, who all died in the space of 24 hours two weeks ago in Belfast.

Drugs are suspected to have been involved in at least two of the deaths.

One of the four was 16-year-old Chloe Hutchings, who was discovered in an apartment in the Great Victoria Street area, the victim of a suspected overdose.

Teenager Chloe Hutchings, who died at Belfast's Great Victoria Street

It is understood that two men were also found unconscious in the same property and taken to hospital, but were subsequently released.

Another of the four was Christopher 'Chrissy' Lavery, who was discovered dead from a suspected accidental overdose at his grandparents' home in the Riverdale Park North area of west Belfast.

West Belfast man Christopher 'Chrissy' Lavery (26) 

Since 2013, the coroner has recorded a total of 93 cases in which the cause of death was drugs related.

Historically, drug-related deaths in Northern Ireland are more likely to involve prescription medications than anywhere else in the UK - where hard, illegal drugs such as heroin and cocaine are more prevalent.

In February, The Irish News revealed that there were more than 1,000 emergency admissions to Belfast's hospitals due to intentional and accidental drug overdoses last year.

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