Northern Ireland

Drug-related deaths: Figures show 98% increase in Northern Ireland over last decade

New figures show an increase in drug-related deaths in Northern Ireland
New figures show an increase in drug-related deaths in Northern Ireland (Getty Images)

There has been a 98% increase in the number of drug-related deaths in Northern Ireland over the last decade, according to new figures.

The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (Nisra) revealed there were 110 deaths due to drugs in 2012, reaching a peak of 218 in 2020 and to 213 in 2021.

The agency said the figures showed that the north “has seen deaths due to drug-related causes rise by 98%” over the past 10 years.

There were 154 drug-related deaths in 2022. Statistics show that 82.5% of all drug-related deaths in 2022 were classed as drug misuse deaths.

However, the figures show that the three-year average age-standardised drug-related death rate from 2020 to 2022 was 10.5 deaths per 100,000 - a decrease on the 2019-2021 rate of 9.3 per 100,000.

Prior to this, the three-year average for both drug-related deaths and drug misuse has been steadily increasing since 2012.

The 25-34 and 35-44 age groups together accounted for 55.8% of all drug-related deaths in 2022.

Each year over half of drug-related deaths have involved an opioid.

The next most commonly mentioned type of drug was benzodiazepines, appearing on 95 death certificates between 2020 and 2022, while deaths involving pregabalin have risen consistently since its first appearance in these statistics in 2013.

The annual number of deaths involving this controlled substance rose from 1 between 2011 and 2013, to an average of 67 between 2020 and 2022.

Over two-thirds (68.8%) of drug-related deaths in 2022 involved two or more drugs.

Each year over half of drug-related deaths have involved an opioid

While cocaine is not the most frequently mentioned drug on death certificates in 2022, it has emerged as the predominant substance mentioned in deaths involving only one drug in 2022, constituting 9.1% of total drug-related deaths and 35.0% of single-drug deaths.

But figures show deaths where alcohol is mentioned on death certificates of drug-related deaths has declined over the last decade, falling from 31.8% in 2012 to 17.6% in 2022.

The 20% most deprived areas accounted for 44.5% of drug-related deaths and 44.4% of drug misuse deaths between 2018 and 2022, compared to 7.6% and 7.2% in the 20% least deprived areas.

Belfast local government district had the highest age-standardised rate of drug-related deaths in 2022 at 14.3 deaths per 100,000 population, followed by Causeway Coast & Glens at 10.7.

Just last year, the head of an addiction charity told The Irish News that the current impact of drug abuse in Belfast was the worst he has ever seen.

Alex Bunting from Inspire, said: “I’ve never seen it as bad in terms of the impact on the city, and I work in the city every day.

“That’s backed up by the statistics, not just in terms of the drug-related deaths but also in the social cost.

“We see the impact in the courts, the health system and they’re significant and unsustainable.”