Cocaine-related deaths in Northern Ireland rocketed by almost 1,000% over the last five years, Northern Ireland’s coroner has said.
Joe McCrisken revealed the statistics to UTV as part of a news special examining the scale of the drugs crisis across Northern Ireland.
He warned that without "drastic intervention" the problem would only get worse.
Mr McCrisken also revealed over the past five years there was a 700% rise in deaths involving strong designer benzodiazepines, while heroin-related deaths doubled.
Since the start of the year the overall number is 34.
Mr McCrisken also warned of the dangers taking drugs can have.
In 2020, 218 people lost their lives due to drug misuse – the highest level on record.
“We have a huge problem with drugs,” Mr McCrisken said.
“Heroin, cocaine and designer benzodiazepines are the three groups of drugs which are causing most concern at the minute.
“It would appear the use of drugs is increasing and also the types of drugs being abused seem to be changing on a regular basis,” he added.
When it comes to locating the substances, Mr McCrisken said they are believed to have been “created as research chemicals in the 1970s” but weren’t used, however “the recipes seem to have been reused on an industrial scale” with some being “modified into powder or pills”.
“They are illicitly manufactured and are very, very potent and they are very, very dangerous,” said the coroner.
Mr McCrisken said those considering purchasing and abusing drugs “can’t know what strength they are and they can’t know what the outcomes are likely to be.”
“You’ve absolutely no idea how long it might last or how strong it is.
“So no matter what you’ve read online, no matter what you think you know, I can tell you now, as an expert in this, there is no predictability with these drugs.
“You can’t predict the side-effects.”
Any solution to the current crisis will need to be “multi-factorial”, the coroner said.
“There is no one thing which is going to fix the problem,” he explained.
“This is about detection, enforcement, community, involvement, healthcare.”
Devastation caused by drugs is not confined to one section of society – it hits all socio economic backgrounds.
“No member of the community here will be untouched by this,” explained Mr McCrisken.
“Everyone in Northern Ireland should be worried about this problem.”
The Public Health Agency has a range of services offering support for addiction. To find a service near you visit https://drugsandalcoholni.info/Mental health crisis helpline Lifeline can be contacted on 0808 808 8000.
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