New study shows notable regional differences in drug-related mortality in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland has observed a considerable rise in drug-related deaths (DRDs) in the last two decades, reaching a record high of 189 deaths in 2018, according to latest official statistics. 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 aim of this research, led by John Hughes of the Northern Ireland Statistics & Research Agency (NISRA), ADR Northern Ireland, is to advance understanding of DRDs in Northern Ireland, over and above regularly published official statistics.

What we did and what we found

Using the Northern Ireland Mortality Study (NIMS), which links the 2011 Census to subsequent deaths until 2017, we provided novel, socio-demographic insights into DRD’s in Northern Ireland. We found that:

  • Drug-related 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Why it matters

As drug users are a hard-to-reach group and often don’t avail of existing services, relatively little is known about their socio-economic characteristics and underlying health issues. This paper quantifies the socio-economic determinants of DRDs in Northern Ireland and should assist policy makers in their ongoing development and targeting of drug misuse prevention strategies.

What next?

A separate but similar analysis relating to alcohol specific deaths in Northern Ireland is currently underway and will be published in Summer 2020.

You can read the complete findings in the full publication.

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