Drug misuse claims life 'every other day'
The Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) has warned of the dangers of taking drugs and mixing them with alcohol following the deaths of four people in Belfast during the Christmas holidays.
Detectives are investigating whether the deaths are drugs-related.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland is waiting for results of post-mortem examinations and toxicology tests.
Joe Brogan, the HSCB's head of pharmacy, said it was important not to misuse prescription drugs.
He said that while the cause of the deaths in Belfast had not been confirmed, the number of deaths associated with drug and alcohol misuse "over the past number of years has increased".
"With drugs misuse we see a death every other day in Northern Ireland, with alcohol misuse a death every day," he told BBC News NI.
"Over the past 10 years we have seen a fourfold increase in drug misuse deaths - that's very significant.
"People talk about prescription drug misuse, and perhaps there is a degree of security that this is a prescription drug so it is somewhat safer, but absolutely it is not safe.
"A drug or a medicine is a poison - there are only three things that differentiate it.
"So first, what is the dose? If you take too much of it you will die.
"Second, what are you taking it for? If it is not clinically indicated, if it has not been prescribed, then you may also die.
"Thirdly, if you are taking it with something else, if you are taking it with alcohol, with other drugs, then again you could die."
Mr Brogan said that if an individual had a problem it was crucial that they sought help.
"There is a website called drugsandalcoholni.info - it is promoted by the Public Health Agency - and on that website there is lots of information about local support that individuals can participate in."
This week, the PSNI's Det Supt Bobby Singleton said that "while the cause of death is not definitively known in any of the four deaths in Belfast, the use of illicit drugs along with prescription drugs may be a factor".
He also appealed to the public for help to bring drug dealers to justice.