Most of Northern Ireland’s drug deaths among young people 

People aged between 25 and 34 account for the highest number of drug-related deaths in Northern Ireland, according to research by the country’s drug deaths taskforce. 

Professor Anne Campbell of Queen’s University
Professor Anne Campbell of Queen’s University

The proportion of 25 to 34-year-olds dying a drug-related death rose from 13 per 100,000 in 2011 to 27 per 100,000 in 2021, says the report. 

The findings are in contrast to data on drug deaths in England and Wales, where the highest rate is among 45 to 49-year-olds, and Scotland, where people aged between 35 and 54 are most likely to die from drug misuse. The average age of drug misuse deaths in Scotland has risen from 32 to 44 over the past 20 years. Northern Ireland currently has the second highest rate of drug-related deaths in the UK after Scotland, at 11.5 per 100,000 population.  

The research is the first to look at data from across a range of services in Northern Ireland, including the ambulance service, the National Programme on Substance Misuse Deaths, the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) and emergency admissions from the country’s health and social care trusts. It was carried out in collaboration with Queen’s University Belfast, the Northern Ireland Alcohol and Drugs Alliance (NIADA), South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust, Ulster University, and the University of St Andrews.  

Northern Ireland’s health agencies need to closely monitor the emergence of synthetic opioids, the report warns, and improve drug testing of samples submitted by community and voluntary sector organisations. The country’s drug landscape is changing and ‘we are beginning to see evidence of nitazenes in recent drug deaths’, the document states. More resources, including staff, also need to be allocated to outreach work targeting younger people, it adds, along with enhanced peer naloxone training. 

‘The prevention of each of these deaths is possible, making it essential for the Department of Health, the NI Executive, and society to prioritise this issue,’ said Professor Anne Campbell of Queen’s University, who led the research. ‘This work will provide the evidence base for the nature and type of drug related deaths in Northern Ireland, the numbers admitted to hospital for overdose, the number of deaths that could have been avoided, and the number of young people and young adults who are being admitted with overdoses. This report will inform the work undertaken by the drug deaths taskforce, which has recently been implemented.’ 

Drug overdoses and drug related deaths in northern ireland report


Drug overdoses and drug-related deaths in NI is available here

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