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Home > Drug-related deaths in Northern Ireland: socio-demographic analyses.

Hughes, John and IJpelaar, Jos and Lyness, Deborah (2020) Drug-related deaths in Northern Ireland: socio-demographic analyses. Belfast: Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency.

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URL: https://www.nisra.gov.uk/publications/drug-related...


Northern Ireland has observed a considerable rise in drug-related deaths in the last two decades, reaching a record high of 189 deaths in 2018, according to latest official statistics. This is despite increased awareness of the harmful consequences of drugs. Drug misuse is an important, yet inadequately understood, public health problem in Northern Ireland, that can have tragic consequences for families and communities and creates a wider societal cost in terms of premature mortality. The overarching goal of the research is to advance understanding of the nature and scale of drug-related deaths in Northern Ireland. We are using a research dataset called the Northern Ireland Mortality Study (NIMS) linking the 2011 Census to subsequent deaths until 2017 to provide novel, socio-demographic insights into drug-related deaths in Northern Ireland. 

Key aims: For drug deaths in Northern Ireland we are:

  1. Examining recent trends;
  2. Assessing the socio‐demographic profile; and
  3. Modelling associations of health, socio‐demographic and local area characteristics 

Key findings:

- The Age Standardised Rate for drug-related deaths (DRDs) for persons aged 10-64 years was 13.7 (per 100,000) in 2018 compared to 2.6 (per 100,000) in 2001. - Over the last 15 years, the greatest increases in DRDs occurred in males aged 25-44.

- In 2018, over 73% of DRDs involved two or more substances.

- A high proportion of DRDs (61% in 2018) involve opioids (including heroin/morphine and tramadol) and benzodiazepines (51% in 2018) and this has increased over time. However, a considerable proportion of DRDs in 2017 (29%) and 2018 (31%) involved pregabalin/ gabapentin.

- There is a notable geographic variation with higher mortality rates in Belfast (14.2 per 100,000) compared to other Local Government Districts. In Greater Belfast, there is a two-fold greater risk of DRD in the most deprived areas compared to the least deprived areas.

- Drug deaths are observed across a range of socio-economic groups, however, after taking account of other factors, those most at-risk are younger age groups, males, those living alone, those with lower educational attainment and the economically inactive.

- After examining area deprivation, socio-demographic and health factors, there is an excess risk (21%) of DRD in Greater Belfast compared to the rest of Northern Ireland.

- Drug misuse is strongly linked with co-occurring mental health problems and long term illness.

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