Just two weeks ago, the Ballymena Times revealed the growing concern about the availability of a synthetic opioid ‘death drug’ on the streets of the town.
Now, it has been revealed that more people died in 2015 from the misuse of opioid drugs than in road fatalities.
Police released the figures as they highlighted last week’s anti-drugs raids in the region, part of their ongoing ‘Operation Torus’ campaign.
There were 88 opioid-related deaths and 74 fatalities as a result of road accidents in 2015, said the PSNI.
Opioid drugs include heroin, morphine, methadone, and prescription drugs such as tramadol and codeine.
Police revealed the figures as they gave an update on Operation Torus, a campaign to tackle street level drug dealing.
Officers have seized more than £309,000 worth of drugs in the first two weeks of the latest campaign.
Earlier this month , the Times told how a ‘synethic opioid’ linked to ‘numerous deaths’ had been sold to drug users on the streets of Ballymena and revealed that the Department of Health had urged medical professionals to be alert to its availability.
Locals believe the synthetic opioid was used to ‘cut’ drugs to make their sale more profitable to unscrupulous and uncaring dealers operating in the general area.
Health professionals across Northern Ireland were told that the Drug & Alcohol Monitoring & Information System (DAMIS) had information that the synthetic opioid analgesic U47,700 was available in Ballymena.
According to the letter, the substance, believed to be a powder, has so far been linked to two deaths in Northern Ireland during November and December 2016, and also linked to a further three cases in December where the user was found unconscious and required to be admitted to hospital. And it continues; “Some of the people who used the substance appear to have been sold the substance as cocaine. It may also be the case that some believed it to be heroin. It is suspected the U47,700 is linked to its availability the Ballymena area.”
It is believed U47,700 is new to Northern Ireland.It has been linked to numerous deaths in the USA, England and Scotland.
The letter adds: “We do not have any further details but it is important that frontline staff are aware that people may report as having taken a stimulant, such as cocaine, but symptoms closer to opioid overdose.
During Operation Torus, which began on 27 February, police have conducted 244 searches across Northern Ireland, resulting in 59 arrests. Forty three people have been charged or reported to the Public Prosecution Service.
Prescription medication Lyrica also known as Pregabalin is among the items recovered by police during Operation Torus
Announcing the preliminary figures, Det Ch Supt Tim Mairs said the number of deaths in Northern Ireland connected to drug use is on the increase and is a concern.
he added: “Sadly, these are all preventable. A report by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs in December 2016 highlighted there was an increase of opioid deaths across the UK between 2012 and 2015, with Northern Ireland having the second highest increase of 47% following England at 58%.
“This indicates that, despite the much smaller numbers we are dealing with in Northern Ireland, the rate of increase is worrying.”
Police would continue to target drug dealers, he said, but added that the PSNI could not combat the problem without the help of communities and partner agencies.