Pubdate: Fri, 07 Nov 2008
Source: Irish Times, The (Ireland)
Copyright: 2008 The Irish Times
Author: Mary Minihan


IRELAND HAS the fourth-highest rate of drug-related deaths in Europe, 
new research has found.

The Health Research Board's (HRB) first report on deaths among drug 
users found Ireland has 54.2 deaths per one million population, 
compared with the European average of 20.9. Only Estonia, Denmark and 
Luxembourg are ahead of Ireland.

The number of drug-related deaths here increased from 242 in 1998 to 
400 in 2005, with a total of 2,442 people dying directly or 
indirectly from drug use over that period. The HRB has collated 
statistics on drug deaths from 1998 to 2005, but has additional 
figures on treatment up until 2007.

HRB senior researcher Dr Suzi Lyons said "one of the reasons" 
Ireland's rate appeared so much higher than other countries was 
because some had less comprehensive monitoring systems in place. 
Opiates, including heroin, were the main cause of death among people 
who died by poisoning, with 88 per cent of fatal overdoses associated 
with opiate use.

The HRB said the latest figures show there could be more than 15,800 
problem opiate users in Ireland. Opiates account for 67 per cent of 
people presenting for treatment for drug problems. There has been an 
increase in the number of cases entering treatment since 2005, with a 
total of 1,032 new cases in 2007.

Ireland has recently recorded a higher-than-average increase in 
heroin seizures, with 1,254 in 2006 compared to 763 in 2005.

Dr Jean Long, head of the HRB's alcohol and drug research unit, said: 
"In Ireland, the 2007 figures show that there were 54 newly diagnosed 
cases of HIV as a result of injecting drugs. In view of the latest 
figures on blood-borne viruses, Ireland is among the low-prevalence 
countries for HIV and high-prevalence countries for hepatitis C."

Cocaine, taken alone or with another drug, accounted for 21 per ent 
of drug-induced deaths in 2005. Treatment demand, reporting cocaine 
as the main problem drug, increased from 81 cases in 2001 to 770 cases in 2007.

Dr Long said the proportion of young adults, aged 15 to 34, reporting 
cocaine use in the last year was 3 per cent, compared to a European 
range of 0.2-5.4 per cent. "This places Ireland among the 
high-prevalence countries such as the UK, Spain and Italy."

Cocaine seizures have increased from 515 in 2003 to 1,500 in 2006. Dr 
Long said Ireland's increasing cocaine problem was the result of a 
number of factors including availability, price, affluence, youthful 
population and geography.

Meanwhile, the drug ecstasy is declining in popularity, according to 
Dr Long. "The number reporting ecstasy as their main problem drug has 
decreased considerably from 219 in 2001 to 129 in 2007." The report 
claims amphetamine use is uncommon in Ireland.

The majority of people who suffer drug-related deaths are men aged 
between 20 and 40 years, reflecting international experience. 
However, more than seven in every 10 of those who die as a result of 
solvent misuse are under 19 and almost one-third are under 14.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom