Major hike in people given emergency help for heroin overdose with Naloxone drug
THE use of an emergency drug to save lives in the event of a heroin overdose has doubled in the past year.
Figures have revealed that paramedics have had to administer Naxolone 420 times in the past year to reverse the deadly effects of the drug.
The figure is almost double the previous year and has sparked concerns about the availability of the deadly drug in Northern Ireland.
Naloxone is used only in emergency situations to combat the effects of life-threatening opiate overdose and was first supplied to the north's health service in 2011.
Over the last four years, Naloxone has been administered on 1,098 occasions by ambulance staff.
Take-home Naloxone kits are also supplied to users and family members to use in the event of an overdose.
The number of kits handed out by medical professionals has also increased from 187 in 2014-15 to 247 this year.
Police seizures of opiates, of which heroin is the main illegal derivative, are also reflecting the trend.
With drug seizures - including heroin - on a 10 year high police have revealed they have recently targeted resources against heroin dealers, particularly in Belfast, Portadown and Ballymena making more than two dozen arrests.
Last month heroin with an estimated street value of £500,000 was seized along with cocaine and other drugs valued in total at £1.2m.
According to police officers seized 186 grams of opiate powder in 2014-2015.
This year, the figure has increased to 2,943 grams representing a 15-fold increase.
Needle exchange programmes for heroin users set up across Northern Ireland have also seen an increase.
Between April 1 2014 and March 31 2015, the services were visited on 26,713 occasions, a 17 per cent increase on the previous year. In Belfast alone the figure jumped by 26 per cent.
In the past year, Belfast City Council has installed ‘sharps bins’ in five public toilets across the city to enable injecting drug users to safely dispose of needles.
Ulster Unionist MLA and party health spokesperson Jo-Anne Dobson said that figures reflected a concerning trend.
"These figures give us perhaps the clearest indication yet of the worrying rise in heroin addiction in Northern Ireland.
"It should be very clear that any treatments being administered by health professionals must be targeted at eradicating addiction rather than being seen by addicts as a form of management or at worst a safety net," she said.
"Too many families have been ripped apart by drugs. I fully support any measures to bring drug dealers, who have nothing to offer but death, to justice and take them off our streets."