THE latest figures published by NISRA recently showing that alcohol-specific deaths in 2019 were the highest on record in Northern Ireland (NI) is part of a “worrying” upward trajectory.

Some 336 of the 15,758 registered deaths in NI in 2019 were due to alcohol-specific causes.

This is more than a third (34.9 per cent) higher than recorded 10 years previously (249), and 18.3 per cent higher than the 2018 total of 284.

Aidan Ormsby, a senior manager at Solace Addiction Services at the ARC Healthy Living Centre in Irvinestown said that while the statistics put the figures in black and white, Solace sees that the hazardous and harmful consumption of alcohol across Fermanagh and Omagh is rising through a notable increase in its referral rate and uptake of services.

In the Western Health and Social Care Trust region, there was an increase in such deaths from 2018 to 2019, rising from 48 to 64. This was the second-largest increase behind the Southern Trust.

Despite 64 being the second-lowest number of deaths out of all five Trusts in 2019, the Western Trust had the second-highest rate per 100,000 of population (21.1) of alcohol-specific deaths.

Since 2015, there have been 555 alcohol related deaths in the Western region.

“The continuing upward trajectory in alcohol-related deaths is very worrying. Covid hasn’t helped, but the trend was upward before Covid.

“Society’s cultural relationship with alcohol is something that we must continue to work on as every life lost to alcohol is a life too much,” said Aidan.

While the figures do not take into account 2020 and the Covid pandemic, Aidan said there is “heightened demand for harm-reduction services over the past year”.

“Lockdowns and Covid restrictions have led to a rise in the consumption of alcohol at home. Alcohol has become so much more accessible, and home measures tend to be considerably more generous than pub measures.

“We are listening to many, many stories from men and women who find themselves drinking more units than they normally would, and much more frequently than they would have done previously,” added Aidan.

He said that alcohol is being used as a coping mechanism in these challenging and stressful Covid times, and this is impacting on people’s lives in the here and now, but could also be storing up issues for individuals and families and communities in the future.

“The impacts of harmful, hazardous consumption of alcohol are well documented. Excess alcohol can have both physical and psychological impacts on the body in the short-, medium- and long-term.

“We are clearly seeing these impacts in Solace and, indeed, across the health system.”

Rural isolation and loneliness is also a factor in the rise in alcohol-related harms, according to Aidan.

“Due to Covid restrictions, visiting people in their own homes has been greatly curtailed. Neighbours, family members and helping organisations who ordinarily would have been visiting are restricted, and this community connectivity has always played a vital role in looking out for each other.”

The figures also show that between 2018 and 2019, the alcohol-specific mortality rate increased for both males and females.

The rate for males increased from 21.2 per 100,000 males to 22.5; for females, the equivalent rate rose from 9.2 per 100,000 females to 13.1.

Aidan thinks the upward trajectory will continue in the coming years. He said: “I think, given the current situation, the trend is likely to continue in the short- to medium-term.

“Extra resources will certainly be needed in Fermanagh and Omagh to assist with reversing the tide.

“We will continue to work hard to support those who are experiencing alcohol-related harm and their families.”

Solace continues to provide harm reduction services across Fermanagh and Omagh with the help of the Public Health Agency.

If you would like to talk to a member of the Solace team, contact Arc Healthy Living Centre at 0286 862 8741.