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Press Release

Press release

HRB reports latest drug-related deaths figures

15 December 2014

The number of drug-related deaths has decreased slightly from 645 in 2011 to 633 in 2012*, according to the latest figures published by the Health Research Board (HRB). A total of 350 people died as a result of poisoning (i.e. toxic effect of drug(s) in the body) while 283 were deaths among drug users, which includes deaths from trauma, such as hanging, or death from medical cause for example, liver disease. A total of 5,289 people have died since records began in 2004.

According to Graham Love, Chief Executive at the Health Research Board,

'The purpose of this report is to provide solid evidence to inform efforts in tackling problem drug use and ultimately to save lives. Our data outlines the key contributors to the deaths. What is clear is that alcohol remains the substance implicated in most poisonings,  polydrug use features in more than half of poisonings and we continue to see an increase in the number of people dying by hanging.

We are also seeing evidence that interventions work. Since 2004 there is a sustained decrease in the number of deaths among drug users linked to road traffic collisions, which have fallen by 62% since 2006. This correlates with tough drink-driving campaigns from the Road Safety Authority and the introduction of random breath testing in 2006. We would hope that the new roadside impairment testing, and measures in the upcoming Public Health Alcohol Bill will result in a further decline in drug-related deaths in the future'. 

Key figures from 2012
Poisonings – deaths as a result of the toxic effect of one or more drugs present in the body.
  • 350 people died from poisoning in 2012, a decrease from 387 in 2011.
  • 50% of people who died were 40 years of age or younger.
  • Three out of four deaths were men.
  • Alcohol was involved in one in every three poisoning deaths.
  • Benzodiazepines were involved in one out of three poisoning deaths.
  • Methadone was involved in one out of four poisoning deaths and in most of these deaths methadone was mixed with another drug.
  • More than half of people died as a result of taking a mixture of drugs. Since 2004 there has been a 60% increase in the number of deaths involving polydrug use.
  • There were 61 deaths involving heroin; showing a sustained decline in heroin deaths from a peak of 115 in 2009.
  • More than one in three people who died from poisoning had a history of mental illness.
Non-poisonings – deaths among drug users which includes deaths from trauma, such as hanging, or medical causes, such as liver disease.
  • There was an increase in the number of non-poisonings, rising from 258 in 2011. to 283 in 2012.
  • Deaths from trauma accounted for 138 deaths, an increase from 124 in 2011.
  • Half of those who died as a result of trauma were 29 years-of-age or younger.
  • 80% of trauma deaths were men.
  • Hanging accounts for just over half of trauma deaths.
  • More than half of those who died from traumatic causes had a history of mental illness.
  • Deaths from medical causes also increased from 132 in 2011, to 143 in 2012.
  • The majority who died from medical causes were between 35 and 59 years of age.
  • Men accounted for seven in every ten deaths due to medical causes.
  • The most common medical cause of death was cardiac events (31%) and liver disease (16%).

According to Ena Lynn, Research Officer at the Health Research Board,

β€˜In 2012, for the first time, we looked at history of mental illness among those who died. Our data shows that one in three people who died had a history of mental illness and this rose to one in every two deaths when you look at trauma alone. It is hoped that over time this data would be useful in terms of providing evidence for treatment for co-morbid conditions of mental illness and addiction.'

The figures reported are from the HRB National Drug-Related Deaths Index which provides the latest data about the nature and the extent of premature death due to problem drug and alcohol use in Ireland. It aims to help focus efforts to tackle problem drug use in an informed, evidence-based way in order to improve and save lives.


*Data from 2012 will be updated as more Coroners cases close. For example in January 2014 the number of drug-related deaths for 2011 was 607, over the past 11 months this has risen to the 645 figure we now have recorded. 

A number of infographics are available to download from the 'infographic' link below.

For more information contact:

Gillian Markey
Communications Manager 
Health Research Board
m 087 2288514

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