A HERCULEAN effort is required to help tackle the rising problem of drug abuse locally. Independent councillor Raymond Barr made the comment in response to recent figures released by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) which show that eight people in the district lost their lives at the hands of drugs in 2018.
The figure represents a fall of one person from 2019 and of four from 2016 when 12 people passed away. The year 2015 saw 11 people die, while in 2014 nine fatalities were recorded.
While the decrease from 2016 is to be welcomed Cllr Barr feels the figures may be hiding a bigger problem.
He explained, “I don’t feel the NISRA report gives a true reflection of the problems facing the Derry/Strabane Council area at this minute in time. True, there were nine drug related deaths reported in 2014 and eight in 2018 but the three years in between showed an increase, peaking at 12 in 2016.
“We also have to remember there are other areas where death can occur which can be directly attributed to drug misuse: new-borns who are affected due to a mother’s drug use and suicides which occur due to mental health disorders and depression brought on by drug abuse.”
Across the North the report showed there had been 189 drug-related deaths in 2018. Half of these (95) were of men aged 25-44. The 2018 total is more than double the number recorded a decade ago, when 89 people died and has risen by 53 deaths since 2017.
“All five health trusts have shown an increase over the past four years,” Cllr Barr explained. “Make no mistake about it, drug abuse is on the increase in our council area as it is everywhere and it’s going to take a Herculean effort by all agencies to slow this process down. The availability and the apparent acceptance of the practice threatens to destroy the lives of our young people for the foreseeable future.
“The report also indicates that drug abuse is more prevalent in areas of high deprivation and this reinforces the need for more investment at all levels in Strabane,” he added.
The NISRA figures showed that half of the deaths in 2018 involved three or more drugs. Since 2010 over half of drug-related deaths each year have involved an opioid. In 2018, a total of 115 drug-related deaths had an opioid mentioned on the death certificate.
Heroin and morphine were the most frequently mentioned opioids in 2018, connected to 40 drug-related deaths, up from 24 in 2017 and the highest number on record.
Drug-related deaths involving cocaine increased from 13 in 2017 to 28 in 2018 and again is the highest level on record.
Diazepam was listed in 40.2 per-cent of all drug-related deaths in 2018, a similar proportion to that recorded in previous years.
Drug-related deaths involving pregabalin, however, have risen consistently since its first appearance in these statistics in 2013; the annual number of deaths involving this controlled substance rose from nine in 2016, to 33 in 2017 and 54 in 2018.
Almost 23 per-cent of all drug-related deaths in 2018 also mentioned alcohol on the death certificate, a proportion which has remained relatively consistent over the last five years.
The statistics also indicate that there are notably higher numbers of drug-related deaths in areas of deprivation across Northern Ireland.