Drug-related deaths in Northern Ireland more than doubled in the decade between 2010 and 2020.
And in 2020 alone, 218 deaths occurred as a result of drugs related issues.
The figures showed an increase of 27 deaths, according to figures compiled by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Office.
And the Sunday World has been told that anticipated numbers for the current year look set to outstrip any previously recorded statistics.
In recent weeks, six youngsters lost their lives on the streets of Belfast as a result of injecting heroin mixed with other death-inducing substances.
And recent Sunday World investigations revealed the man is suspected of being behind the sale and supply of the fake drugs which resulted in death.
Initially, he based himself in an area near Belfast city centre where a number of owners of retail units have recently threatened to shut up shop.
But it now appears he is keen to expand his operation.
Earlier this week, he was spotted with a small team of newly recruited runners, peddling drugs in the city centre.
Dressed in the traditional drugs dealers’ garb of baseball cap, anorak, shorts and expensive sneakers, he carries drugs on his person, although it is understood he also has additional supplies stashed nearby.
Eagle-eyed and alert, he is permanently on the look-out for undercover police officers and takes to his heels at the first sign of their presence.
When he first arrived in Belfast, the Dublin dealer operated alone – save for his faithful pit bull terrier – but in recent weeks, he has been seen operating with a small team of runners.
And we can reveal, he has recently taken out a lease on an apartment in the city.
The upcoming drugs baron learned his trade on the streets of inner city north Dublin, where narcotics abuse and dependency has led to major social problems.
But after travelling north with a friend on a drugs delivery, he opted to give set himself up as a back street dealer. He chose to operate near Belfast’s main shopping thoroughfares.
He recently revealed to other drugs trade colleagues – who spoke to the Sunday World – that an initial outlay of just £1000 had returned him £10,000. And he soon established himself as one of the top street dealers operating in the city centre.
And now the sale of death-inducing drugs is expected to soar.
“This guy portrays himself as a small time street dealer. But the reality is, he just spotted a gap in the market. He likes to dress like a drugs user/dealer, but the truth is raking in a fortune selling highly questionable products.” a city centre drugs source told us.
And he added: “It can’t go on without serious consequences.”
Official Government figures revealed that of the 218 deaths recorded in 2020, more than half of those who lost their lives to drugs were men aged between 25 and 22.
Statistics also show that drugs related deaths occur in areas of high deprivation.
Opioids were named as the cause of death on 133 certificates issued in the year 2020.
Heroin and morphine were also mentioned in most deaths the same year.
And diazepam – which had previously been the cause of many drugs-related deaths in Northern Ireland – recorded a marked decrease.
The number of drugs-related deaths involving cocaine has remained relatively unchanged in recent years, accounting for less than 20% of all recorded deaths in 2020.