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Press Release

Press release

Health Research Board publish latest drug-related deaths figures

13 December 2016

The latest figures from the Health Research Board (HRB) show that almost two people died each day in Ireland during 2014 as a result of poisoning, trauma or medical causes linked to drug use. A total of 697* people died in 2014 compared to 431 in 2004 – this represents an increase of 62%.

There have been 6,697 deaths among people who use drugs since 2004.

  • Prescription drugs were implicated in 259, or three in every four, poisonings during 2014.
  • 235 or two in every three people died in 2014 because they took a mixture of drugs, with an average of four drugs involved. Benzodiazepines were the most common drug group involved in poly drug deaths.
  • Notwithstanding a small decrease in alcohol poisonings, alcohol is still implicated in one-in-three deaths and remains the single most common drug implicated in deaths over the reporting period 2004-2014.
  • Opiates were the main drug group implicated in poisonings.
  • Hanging was the main cause of non-poisoning deaths. There was a 21% increase in deaths due to hanging between 2013 and 2014.

According to Dr Graham Love, Chief Executive at the HRB,

‘It is not just illicit drugs that are resulting in death. Over time we are seeing a rise in the number of deaths involving prescription drugs and cocktails of different drugs. Alcohol is also implicated in one in three deaths. Mixing drugs increases the risk of death, which is clearly reflected in these figures’.

Key findings  
  • There were 697 deaths in 2014, similar to the number reported in 2013 (698).
  • Many of these deaths were premature – half of all deaths in 2014 were aged 39 years or younger. 
  • Three in four (523) of all deaths were male.

The Health Research Board reports on poisonings deaths (also known as overdose) which are due to the toxic effect of a drug, or combination of drugs, and on non-poisonings which are deaths among people who use drugs, as a result of trauma, such as hanging or medical reasons, such as cardiac events.

Poisoning deaths in 2014
  • The number of poisoning deaths decreased from 397 in 2013, to 354 in 2014.
  • Prescription drugs were implicated in 259, or three in every four, poisoning deaths. 
  • Benzodiazepines were the most common prescription drug group implicated.
  • Diazepam (a benzodiazepine) was the most common single prescription drug implicated in 115 (32%) of all poisoning deaths.
  • There was a decrease in the number of deaths where alcohol was implicated from 140 in 2013, to 115 deaths in 2014.
  • Alcohol was implicated in one-in-three of all poisonings and alcohol alone was responsible for 13% of all poisoning deaths. 
  • Opiates were the main drug group implicated in poisonings. 
  • Heroin was implicated in 90 deaths – similar to 2013. 
  • Methadone was implicated in more than a quarter of poisonings (98) – similar to 2013.
  • Cocaine-related deaths increased by 25% from 32 in 2013, to 40 in 2014. 
  • Zopiclone-related deaths (a non-benzodiazepine sedative drug) increased by 41% from 51 in 2013, to 72 in 2014.
 Focus on poly drug use 'drug cocktails'
  • Poly drug use is a significant risk factor for fatal overdose.
  • In 2004, 44% or 118 deaths were due to a cocktail of drugs, with an average of two drugs taken. In 2014, this had risen to 66% or 235 deaths with an average of four different drugs taken. 
  • 59% of deaths where alcohol was implicated involved other drugs, mainly opiates. 
  • 92% of deaths where methadone was implicated involved other drugs, mainly benzodiazepines. 
  • 81% of deaths where heroin was implicated involved other drugs, mainly benzodiazepines. 
  • Almost all deaths (98%) where cocaine was implicated involved other drugs.
Non-poisoning deaths in 2014

The number of non-poisoning deaths increased by 14% from 301 in 2013, to 343 in 2014.  Non-poisoning deaths are categorised as being due to either trauma (177 deaths) or medical causes (116 deaths). 

  • The main causes of non-poisoning deaths were hanging (27%) and cardiac events (15%). 
  • There was a 21% increase in deaths due to hanging between 2013 and 2014. 
  • More than two thirds (67%) of people who died as a result of hanging had a history of mental health illness.

Commenting on the data, Ms Ena Lynn, lead-researcher from the Health Research Board said,
‘We should not lose sight of the fact that each of these statistics is a life cut short, and that family members are deeply affected.  These statistics give us some insight into the impact that drug use has on people and society’.

The full report is available to download from the HRB website at www.hrb.ie/publications. A number of infographics which outline key data are also available for download.

*The 2014 figures are likely to be revised upwards when new data become available from closed inquest files.

ENDS

For further information, or to organise interviews with experts, please contact:
Gillian Markey - Communications Manager, Health Research Board
m 087 2288514 e gmarkey(at)hrb.ie

The Health Research Board (HRB) is the lead agency supporting and funding health research in Ireland. We manage five health information systems in the areas of alcohol and drug use, disability and mental health and generate evidence for health policy. Our aim is to improve people's health, build health research capacity and underpin developments in health service delivery.

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