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Deaths involving pregabalin have climbed sharply in Northern Ireland during 2019, accounting for 40.3 per cent of all drug related deaths, latest official figures showed on Tuesday (March 2).

The annual number of deaths involving this controlled substance rose from nine in 2016 to 54 in 2018 to 77 in 2019.

Since 2010, over half of drug-related deaths each year have involved an opioid. In 2019, 128 drug-related deaths had an opioid mentioned on the death certificate.

Heroin and morphine were the most frequently mentioned opioids in 2019, connected to 46 drug-related deaths, up from 40 in 2018 and the highest number on record.

Drug-related deaths involving cocaine increased from 28 in 2018 to 37 in 2019, the highest level on record.

Diazepam was listed in 36.6 per cent of all drug-related deaths in 2019, a decrease from previous years.

The proportion of all drug-related deaths that also mentioned alcohol on the death certificate decreased from 23.3 per cent in 2018 to 16.2 per cent in 2019.

The statistics also indicate that there are notably higher numbers of drug-related deaths in areas of deprivation across Northern Ireland.

People living in the most deprived areas are five times more likely to die from a drug-related death than those in the least deprived areas.

“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,” NI Health Minister Robin Swann said.

Outlining work being undertaken by his department to prevent drug related deaths, Swann added: “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.”

There were 191 drug-related deaths registered in Northern Ireland in 2019, the highest number recorded since the time series began in 1997. Almost half (45.5 per cent) of these deaths were of men aged 25-44.

The total number of drug related deaths is more than double that recorded a decade ago (84) but is similar to the total of 189 in 2018.

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