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Health Research Board reports Latest drug related Deaths

By Irish Pharmacist - 02nd Jul 2023

drug deaths

Findings show an increase in poisonings and reflect both the rise of cocaine use and dangers of mixing drugs

New preliminary figures from the Health Research Board (HRB) on drug-related deaths show there were 409 poisoning deaths in 2020.* There were also 397 non-poisoning deaths, with hanging the most common cause of these deaths. The findings were presented at the Citizens Assembly on Drug Use on 24 June 2023.

Commenting on the preliminary findings, Health Research Board Chief Executive Dr Mairéad O’Driscoll said: “These findings clearly demonstrate the impact that drug use has in Irish society. HRB findings increase understanding of both the causes of death and the circumstances in which people who use drugs die. This can help inform preventative measures, which we hope will ultimately save lives.”

Dr Suzi Lyons, Senior Researcher at the Health Research Board, added: “Our findings are a really important way of looking at the overall burden of drug use in the population. We can clearly see that mixing drugs is a major factor in poisoning deaths. We also see that the growing prevalence of cocaine use in society is reflected in deaths, with cocaine implicated in 130 deaths in 2020 compared to 24 in 2011. Hangings were a main cause of non-poisoning deaths. Three-in-five people who die by hanging also had a known history of mental health issues.”

KEY FINDINGS

Four hundred and nine deaths were poisonings, and eight-in-10 of these deaths involved more than one drug. Some of the other key findings include:

  • Seven-in-10 involved opioids. Methadone was implicated in three-in-10 poisoning deaths and heroin was implicated two-in-10 poisoning cases.
  • Almost six-in-10 involved benzodiazepines and many of them had more than one type of benzodiazepine.
  • Three-in-10 involved cocaine. uTwo-in-10 involved alcohol (as part of a polydrug poisoning).
  • Almost six-in-10 involved other prescription drugs, most commonly antidepressants and antiepileptics. Socio-demographic characteristics of people who died from poisoning include: uMore than six-in-10 were male.
  • More than half of men were aged 42 years or younger.
  • More than half of women were aged 45 years or younger.
  • Half had a history of mental health issues. uOne-in-eight were homeless. uOne-in-five had ever injected.
  • In four-in-10 of poisoning deaths, the person was alone.
  • Eleven per cent died in homeless accommodation.
  • Nine per cent died in a public place or building.

There were 397 non-poisoning deaths among people with a history of drug use. These were primarily the result of hanging or cardiac events. A quarter (108) of non-poisoning deaths were as a result of hanging. Of those, two-thirds had a history of mental health issues.

These findings represent nearly 12,000 potential life years lost because of poisoning deaths and more than 10,000 potential life years lost because of non- poisoning deaths in just one year.

*Figures presented in the release exclude alcohol only poisoning figures. In 2020 the number of alcohol-only poisonings was 65.

** Potential life years lost was calculated by looking at the age of individuals who died in 2020 and what their life expectancy would have been based on their year of birth.

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