Citizens Assembly highlights high rate of deaths by drugs in Ireland

Today, the Heath Research Board presented the latest national data on drug related deaths in Ireland at the Citizens Assembly on Drugs Use. The data revealed that Ireland has one of the highest rates of deaths by overdose or poisoning as well as non-poisoning drug related deaths in the EU. This is the first time since 2017 that such data has been made available in Ireland and the grim findings show that 409 people died of poisoning and in the region of 400 of non-poisoning, including 109 by hanging. These are the highest figures ever reported. The people who died were young, primarily under 45 years, indicating the burden of premature mortality on people who use drugs. More women than previously died by poisoning  and more than 50% had an underlying mental health issue.

Julie McKenna, NOVAS’ Senior Health and Recovery Manager described the data ‘as deeply troubling’. She said that for people working in the sector the data confirmed their fears relating to the number of drug-related deaths in Ireland. She noted the devastating impact these deaths have on families, communities and our wider society and that this high number of deaths is despite much wider use of naloxone, a medicine that rapidly reverses opioid overdose, in drugs and homeless services since 2017.’ She described the importance of harm reduction techniques such as the administration of naloxone in saving lives; ‘we need to reduce the harm caused by taking drugs and incorporate the lived experience of drug users and their families in responding to addiction and promoting recovery. Here in NOVAS we roll out a peer-led overdose prevention and response programme with our clients, many of whom have prevented overdose and saved lives in our homeless services and in the wider community.’

McKenna called for an integrated, cross-departmental government response to the findings. She urged ‘an immediate shift on how we view and respond to addiction in Ireland. It needs to be tackled from a health-led perspective, with emphasis on recovery and treatment, rather than an approach led by the criminal justice system. This will reduce the stigma and shame surrounding drug use and encourage people in addiction to seek support and treatment earlier. It will transform how we respond to drug use in this country, which right now is wholly inadequate and simply does not work. These finding tell us that.’

Drug use and patterns have become more complex with poly-drug use of a variety of substances becoming increasingly common. Dual diagnosis of mental health and addiction must be treated in tandem so that clients are not bounced from mental health to addiction services, while their health deteriorates and they remain untreated. This is deeply traumatizing for clients and compounds feelings of shame and alienation often associated with addiction. More targeted funding, more treatment and post-treatment support and accommodation is necessary. Viewing addiction as a health issue is fundamental to effectively responding to people who use drugs.


Note for editors


NOVAS set up its first service in Ireland in 2002. Funded by the HSE and the Department of Housing, it provides services for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, in addiction or on the margins of society. We are an Approved Housing Body, providing social housing in the areas we work.


For Further information, contact Una Burns on 061 370325, 083 1083726 or