Substance misuse is placing unsustainable pressure on resources in Northern Ireland, a Stormont Committee has said.
The warning by the Public Accounts Committee for the Province comes as deaths caused by drugs and alcohol in Northern Ireland hit record levels.
Latest figures from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency reveal there were an unprecedented 351 alcohol-specific deaths in 2020. And in 2019, the latest year for which figures are available, drug-related deaths reached a new high of 191.
In its consideration of an earlier report by the Comptroller and Auditor General, the Committee said: “The level of harm caused by substance use is significant and growing, and the pressures on services, and the wider public sector are becoming unsustainable.”
“Substance use causes significant harm in Northern Ireland, to individuals, families and wider society, with impacts on physical and mental health, unemployment, homelessness and criminal activity.”
It added that the Department of Health estimates that “the annual cost to Northern Ireland” of the use of alcohol and drugs “could be around £1.5 billion”.
In Scotland, over 1,300 people died of drug misuse in 2020, setting a new record high for the seventh year in a row.
The figures from the National Records of Scotland vastly outstrip second-place Sweden, and are more than three-and-a-half times those in England and Wales.
Alcohol-specific deaths in Scotland for the same period rose to 1,190 – the largest number since 2008.