Health Minister Robin Swann has underlined the impact of drug use on individuals, their families and wider society.
The Health Minister was speaking following the publication of the latest Drug Related Deaths by NISRA which show that in 2019 191 people died from drug related causes: “First and foremost we must always remember that these deaths are not just statistics. They are people who will be sorely missed and I would like to offer my sincere condolences to all their loved ones.
“The harm caused by drug use, including the misuse of prescription medication, is a key challenge for health and society. Each of these deaths is preventable and it is vital that we as a society do more to tackle the harm caused by problematic drug use. This is a key priority for my Department – working with the Health & Social Care sector, the Department of Justice, and the Police Service of Northern Ireland – to address this growing issue.”
Outlining work being undertaken by the Department of Health, Minister Swann said: “My Department is overseeing the development a new alcohol and drug strategy for Northern Ireland aimed at preventing and addressing the harms related to all substance use. A consultation process on the draft Strategy has recently completed and work has now begun on analysing responses. Once this is complete my officials will work with key stakeholders, including service users and their families, to finalise the strategy.”
The Minister added: “I will continue to work with Ministerial colleagues and Departments to address the underlying causes of substance misuse, such as poverty, homelessness and loneliness. It is only by working holistically across all these issues that we will truly create the conditions to help prevent both alcohol and drug related deaths.”
Chief Medical Officer, Dr Michael McBride added: “The figures released today highlight the ongoing challenge we face in addressing and preventing those specific harms related to the problematic use of drugs – both in terms of illegal drugs and the inappropriate use of prescription medicines.
“Over the course of our previous alcohol and drugs strategy, there were some encouraging signs in relation to reductions in substance misuse at the population level. Among adults, prevalence of illegal drug use largely plateaued and we continued to see significant numbers of individuals and families accessing treatment and support services for alcohol and drug use. In addition, problematic drug use among young people fell significantly.
“However, as we can see in the drug-related death figures released today, this is continuing to be offset by increases in a range of indicators related to harm. There are ongoing concerns about polydrug use and the misuse of prescription drugs. There appears to be a significant cohort of people engaging in increasingly risky behaviours, causing an acute increase in related harms.”
Concluding, Dr McBride said: “I would encourage everyone who is using drugs to seek support from their GP or from other services available to them.”
A list of services is available at: http://services.drugsandalcoholni.info/ . Family support services are also available for family members affected by someone else’s substance use, whether or not the individual is engaging with or seeking treatment and support.