Addressing alcohol and drug-related issues: Reducing harm and supporting positive change.


Addressing alcohol and drug-related issues: Reducing harm and supporting positive change.

On Friday 1st March ASCERT hosted the first in a series of webinars on topical events in the field of alcohol and substances to be held throughout 2024, marking the charity’s 25th anniversary in providing support to communities across Northern Ireland with their prevention, intervention and training services.

A panel of experts from the UK and Ireland met online to discuss the increasing availability and associated risks of harm posed by synthetic opioids, with particular consideration on the potential impact of this for Northern Ireland.

ASCERT’s Chief Executive Gary McMichael, hosted the event which included keynote speakers from Transform Drug Policy Foundation and the Health Service Executive (HSE) Ireland.  Dr Anne Campbell, Professor at the School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work at Queen’s University Belfast who is also an ASCERT Board Member, chaired the panel discussion. The panellists comprised representatives from the Public Health Agency and local charities Extern, Simon Community and DePaul Ireland who engaged in a discussion on the current situation regarding synthetic opioids on the streets.  The webinar provided an opportunity for an in-depth exchange from a diverse field of expertise in how to address this complex challenge.

Between 2012 and 2022, there was a notable surge in drug-related deaths, representing a 40% increase from the previous decade. The majority (82.5%) of these deaths in 2022 were attributed to drug misuse, primarily affecting men, accounting for over two-thirds (69.5%) of the total.

During the years 2020 to 2022, opioids were responsible in over half of the annual drug-related deaths, with an average of 118 deaths each year mentioning opioids on the death certificate.  The statistics presented highlight the severity of the situation, particularly the significant increase in drug-related deaths and the increasing rise of synthetic opioids suggests a trend in the evolving nature of substances and the growing need for targeted efforts to address these issues.

ASCERT, a local charity established by Gary McMichael in November 1998, continues its mission of providing support services across Northern Ireland for young people, individuals and families affected by drug or alcohol use and the charity’s 25th anniversary is testament to its dedication and impact in the field.  ASCERT’s aim in hosting this series of webinars is that the insights shared can contribute to shaping policies and influence decisions addressing the root causes and consequences of substance use in Northern Ireland.

For information and further support from ASCERT, visit or call 0800 254 5123.

To watch the webinar in full: