A homeless charity has helped save 32 lives in Northern Ireland over the past two years through the use of an overdose-reversing drug.
Cross-border group Depaul dealt with 110 cases of suspected overdose in the Province since 2017 and warned that the problem is growing.
It revealed the figures to mark International Overdose Awareness Day and to highlight the on-going problems faced by drug addiction within the homeless sector.
The charity said the lives were saved through intervention and the administration of Naloxone, a life-saving antidote which reverses the effects of an overdose when administered.
To date Depaul have trained over 270 staff in this programme which enables them to spot the signs of a suspected overdose and intervene where necessary. Depaul also constantly seeks to educate service users in the use of this antidote and the dangers posed by drug overdose.
According to the charity, a total of 115 lives have been saved on both sides of the border since 2017 and it has dealt with over 250 suspected overdoses.
Interim Director of Services for Northern Ireland Deirdre Canavan said: “It is clear for the number of lives saved that drug use and addiction is still a growing issue in Northern Ireland. Working within the homeless sector sadly we are all too aware of this.
“In recent years we have witnessed a huge rise in poly-substance addictions where the people we work with are addicted to two or more types of drug. This is an alarming trend as it can be extremely difficult to treat a person who presents with multiple addictions.
“Our Naloxone programme is a measured, life-saving intervention but we can’t continue to help people in this way alone. The reality is we need to be providing more health interventions and giving people the platform to change their drug consumption.
“This means providing more recovery orientated services and safe injection facilities, which we believe will ultimately encourage people to engage with services get the support they require.”
Ms Canavan said there has been a marked shift in the age demographic of those accessing Depaul’s services, with more younger people presenting.
The types of drugs the charity is seeing in circulation include as Lyrica, Xanax, Spice, diazepam and heroine.
Depaul operate 29 services across Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and helped some 4,000 men, women and children in 2018. They also provide low threshold support with some of its services operating on a harm reduction model.