Number of drug related deaths shows need for injection facilities, says minister

Michael Walsh 

“Those who inject on the streets are at even greater risk,” said Minister for Health Promotion Catherine Byrne.

Ireland needs supervised injection facilities to reduce deaths and drug overdoses, said Minister for Health Promotion and the National Drugs Strategy Catherine Byrne, on March 8th.

Figures released in the National Drug Related Deaths Index showed that 736 people died in drug and alcohol-related deaths in 2016, 305 more than in 2004.

Byrne said the figures released by the Health Research Board “are deeply concerning.”

“They represent tragic loss of life and are a stark reminder of the devastating impact of drugs on families and communities,” she said.

The report showed that 85 per cent of people who died from poisoning died of opioid poisoning, and 31 per cent of those had injected in a public space.

“These figures emphasise the need for a Supervised Injecting Facility. I am acutely aware of the harm caused by injecting drugs. Those who inject on the streets are at even greater risk. The Supervised Injecting Facility, when up and running, will be a major step towards reducing deaths from drug overdose,” said Byrne.

There are already over 100 safe injection clinics worldwide in countries such as Canada and Switzerland.

The Supervised Injecting Facility will allow drug users to inject with clean needles in a sterile environment under the supervision of healthcare professionals and aims to reduce drug litter and open injecting on the streets.

Byrne said that the Drug Related Deaths Figures highlight the importance of treating drug and alcohol misuse as a public health issue with the HSE National Service Plan 2019 prioritising the expansion of community-based healthcare services.

65 per cent that died from injecting drugs did so in Dublin City. 55 per cent of those who died from poisoning involving opioids were alone at the time of death.

“The facility is Government policy and it is crucial that it opens as soon as possible.”

The location of Ireland first safe injection site faced pushback from local businesses last year after it was announced that Merchants Quay Ireland, which already offers services to those with addiction and homelessness issues, was going to be to facilitate injecting drug users.

Since the introduction of safe injection sites in Switzerland in 1990, new cases of opioid use have fallen from 553 to 17 in 2016 and HIV and AIDS diagnoses in injecting drug users fell from 48 per cent of users to 15.9 per cent.

The Minister also acknowledged alcohol as a major contributor to the figures with 132 people dying from alcohol poisoning in 2016, 20 more than the previous year.    

“The Government is actively tackling alcohol as a public health issue. The Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018 aims to reduce harmful drinking and to create an environment where children won’t be exposed to alcohol products or advertising.”

The Act, from November 2019, will prohibit the advertisement of alcohol at public transport stops and within 200m of a school, early years centre or local authority playground.

Byrne expressed her concern for non-poisoning deaths attributed to drugs and alcohol, noting that of the 93 people who died by hanging, 75 per cent had a known history of mental health problems.

She said that the HSE is developing an integrated mental health and addiction programme after receiving €1 million from the Department of Health in 2019, which is set to rise to €2 million in 2020.

The new programme is aimed at expanding mental health services to hospitals and communities for people with addiction issues.

Michael Walsh 

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