Over 150 people have died and thousands more have been hospitalised in Derry as a result of alcohol and drug misuse in recent years, the Derry News can reveal.
Figures relating to the period between 2015-2018, show that 8,328 people have been admitted to Altnagelvin Hospital for alcohol misuse.
Shockingly, 149 people have died of alcohol induced illnesses in that time and 693 were categorised as intentional overdoses. The figures came to light following Freedom of Information (FOI) request from the Derry News.
The newest figures for 2018 are also the highest, showing that 2,156 people were admitted for alcohol misuse, 34 people died and 166 were deemed to be intentional overdoses.
By way of comparison, 2,355 people were admitted to Altnagelvin for drugs misuse in the same four-year period. In that time eight deaths were recorded in 2015-16 but none in 2017-18.
Of those drugs admissions, 1,178 were intentional overdoses.
Local GP Paul Molloy of Clarendon Medical practice has attributed issues of alcohol and drug misuse to high levels of deprivation in the city and the absence of hope for many. He contends that situation in Derry has starved people of a purpose in life and forced them to turn to alcohol and drugs in order to “escape.”
Whilst he described Derry as a "superb" area to live and work in and the "most hospitable" place he knows, he added, the city was and remains an area of high deprivation.
“We have not had a recession in Derry because frankly, we never had a boom.
“Take a walk through the city centre. One is confronted by cafes, charity shops and pound shops.
“A large proportion of my patients live day-to-day, what my father who worked most of his life as a teacher in Gobnascale, calls the survival mentality.
“Lack of prosperity, lack of jobs and the cyclical nature of this actually has led to a situation where many of our middle-aged population have never worked.”
Dr Molloy continued: “There are other issues obviously.Drinking has become normal.
“If I see my Dad drinking a bottle of whiskey every night, even if the consequences are deleterious, I am inclined to think that was normal.
“I drank my fair share before I stopped aged 40 when I realised that it is not the be all and end all of a social life."
Dr. Molloy also questioned the drinking culture in our society whereby it is considered the norm to consume alcohol at every social occasion, even christenings and first holy communions.
He continued: “Northern Ireland is a largely forgotten economy and within that Derry and the west are the poor relation. Look at the University issue, look at the constant cries for a medical school.
“Our MLAs and MPs, including Elisha McCallion and Mark Durkan, with whom I have had personal dealings are trying hard but again I’ve would question the appetite in Stormont and London to facilitate the economic growth of Derry and the west.
“Give people jobs, hope and prosperity and many of these perceived social problems disappear.
“But don’t hide the social problems behind the real issue which is lack of growth economically. Certainly, don’t blame the people for trying to survive.”
In a statement to the Derry News a spokesperson from the Public Health Agency said alcohol plays a part in many people’s lives, yet it is surprising how little people know about it.
“Apart from medicines, alcohol is the world’s most widely used drug, playing a role in many social and cultural aspects of our lives. This means that it can be easy to forget that, like many drugs, it is addictive, both physically and psychologically.
“Unfortunately it has widely been acknowledged that Northern Ireland has a serious ‘alcohol problem’ in terms of consumption levels, health issues and the wider social impact on individuals, families and communities.
“The 2017/18 Health Survey for Northern Ireland found that over three quarters of respondents (81% of males 75% of females) drank alcohol in Northern Ireland, and sadly the number of alcohol-related deaths has risen – there were 303 alcohol-related deaths in 2017 and the toll has risen by approximately 27% over the last decade.”
The government’s unit guidelines state that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption. Unit guidelines are the same for men and women and both are advised not to regularly drink more than 14 units per week.
A PHA spokesperson added: “If you do drink as much as 14 units per week, it is best to spread this evenly over three or more days – you shouldn’t ‘save up’ your units for a particular day or a party. Binge drinking can have a major impact on health such as causing damage to the liver, heart, brain and stomach. Over-indulging in alcohol can also affect family and relationships.
“If you think you might have a problem with alcohol and/ or drugs and would like to get help please visit services.drugsandalcoholni.info for information on support services near you.
“There is also a range of services available to you if you are affected by someone else’s drinking and/or drug misuse. Information on these services is also available on this website. These services are available to you regardless of whether or not your loved one is receiving help for his or her alcohol and/ or drug problem.”
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