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Board joins key agencies in highlighting issues around drugs misuse


Pictured at an Organised Crime Task Force Drugs (COTF) briefing at Castle Buildings following the release of NISRA Drugs statistics are (left-right) Joe McCrisken, Coroner, Detective Superintendent Bobby Singleton PSNI, Chair of the OCTF Drugs Sub-group, Joe Brogan, Health and Social Care Board and Michael Owen, Public Health Agency.

Joe Brogan, Head of Pharmacy, played a key role in highlighting the dangers associated with the misuse of drugs last week.

At the invitation of the Department of Justice, Joe joined members of the Organised Crime Task Force Drugs (COTF) for a briefing at Castle Buildings following the release of the latest NISRA Drugs statistics.

He also joined representatives from the PHA, PSNI and Coroner’s Office on a number of television and radio programmes including BBC’s Good Morning Ulster and UTV’s Up Close.

Joe’s expertise in how medicines are prescribed and supplied in the health service, particularly within primary care services, has given him a unique perspective on the growing problem of deaths associated with prescription drugs.

Describing it as a ‘scourge’, he highlighted the extent of the problem, admitting that deaths associated with heroin and cocaine made up only a small proportion of the overall numbers.

“The truth is that deaths associated with painkillers such as Tramadol and Pregabalin; sleeping tablets such as Benzodiazepines and Z drugs; and antidepressant type drugs cause far more deaths,” he said.

The stats released by the NISRA revealed that the number of males dying from drug-related causes in Northern Ireland has increased by a 98% in the last 10 years.

Within those figures, 2017 saw four times more deaths where Pregabalin was listed on the death certificate, with numbers increasing from eight in 2016 to 33 in 2017.

Joe said; “While we commonly refer to ‘prescription drug misuse’ in most cases the drugs have not been prescribed – they have been sourced through family or friends or bought on the street or via the Internet. While we talk about ‘prescription drug misuse’ in many cases, it is ‘polydrug misuse’. In many cases that end up in fatality, individuals are consuming a cocktail of drugs and often mixed in with alcohol.

“There may be a perception that so-called prescription drugs are less dangerous than other illegal drugs – given the numbers of drug deaths, that is clearly not the case. Many such drugs that are bought from illicit sources do not actually contain medicines that they purport to be. Any medicine or any drug can be a poison – it all depends on three things: Where you get it from – was it prescribed and supplied from a regulated source; How much you take – was it taken within accepted dosages; What you take it with – mixing drugs together and with alcohol can create a toxic mix that is lethal.”