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Legal Drugs Are Ireland's Real Killers
When it comes to premature death in Northern Ireland, heroin and cocaine area in the halfpenny place beside tranquilisers and anti-depressants
Eamonn McCann, 19 Jan 2011
Last month saw publication of the most reliable figures yet compiled for drugs-related deaths in Ireland. Mainstream politicians and media averted their eyes.
The statistics related to the North. But there’s no reason to believe the picture is greatly different elsewhere.
Two reports released on December 16 by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) showed alcohol as the most deadly drug, followed by a range of widely-used prescription drugs. NISRA declared: “Drugs commonly associated with drug addiction such as heroin and cocaine are mentioned on fewer death certificates than drugs such as amphetamines, benzodiazepines and antidepressants.”
The reports were based on analyses of drugs-related deaths recorded at inquests and on death certificates between 1999 and 2009.
In 2009, 283 alcohol-related deaths were registered, compared to 276 the previous year, continuing a gradual rise of around 50 percent over the decade.
The median age of alcohol-related deaths was 54, compared to 78 for all deaths: an average of 24 years of potential life lost in each case.
The alcohol-related death rate per 100,000 people for each quintile – fifths of the population ranked in “slices” from most deprived to least deprived – showed 52 deaths per 100,000 population in the least deprived quintile, compared to 218 in the most deprived quintile. “People living in deprived communities are around four times more likely to die from alcohol-related mortality than those who live in the least deprived areas.”
In relation to drugs other than alcohol, NISRA followed standard practice in treating “drug-related deaths” and “deaths due to drug misuse” separately. The latter refers to deaths involving drugs which are illegal.
The median age for drug-related deaths between 1999 and 2009 was 40, for deaths due to drug misuse, 39, suggesting 38 years of potential life lost in respect of drug-related deaths, 39 in relation to deaths from drug misuse.
Of the drugs most commonly involved, benzodiazepines (tranquillisers) were mentioned in 211 death certificates. Diazepam in 148 certificates, anti-depressants in 201 certificates. References to heroin or morphine fluctuated around an average of seven a year.