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New HRB research examines drug poisoning trends between men and women

A new paper from the Health Research Board (HRB) shows rising drug poisoning deaths in Ireland between 2004 and 2017, with most poisoning deaths among men. It is the first time that trend differences between the specific drugs involved in poisoning deaths among both men and women in Ireland has been analysed.

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The paper, Trends in drug poisoning deaths, by sex, in Ireland: a repeated cross-sectional study from 2004 to 2017 is just published in BMJ Open. It was written in collaboration with the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI), the University of Medicine and Health Sciences.

Key points in the paper include:

  • There has been an increase in the rate of drug poisoning deaths* in Ireland from 6.86 per 100,000 in 2004 to 8.08 per 100,000 in 2017
  • The increase in drug poisoning deaths in Ireland is mainly driven by deaths among men
  • For men, drug poisoning deaths involving cocaine, benzodiazepines, antidepressants, and/or prescription opioids increased significantly between 2004 and 2017
  • For women, drug poisoning deaths involving antidepressants, benzodiazepines, and/or prescription opioids increased significantly between 2004 and 2017, with a significant increase in drug poisoning deaths involving cocaine observed in the latter part (2011 to 2017) of the study period
  • A significant increase in two or more central nervous system (CNS) depressant drugs involved in drug poisoning deaths is reported among both men and women
  • While the rate of mortality among women who died of drug poisoning deaths involving alcohol decreased, there was no significant change observed among men 
  • Over half of all drug poisoning deaths involving alcohol were polydrug poisoning deaths.

Speaking about the results, Ena Lynn, lead researcher on the paper and Research Officer at the HRB, says:

“The increasing trend of two or more CNS depressant drugs involved in drug poisoning deaths is of concern, especially among women. This more nuanced data by sex highlights the need for an increased understanding among prescribers, people who use drugs and policymakers about physiological differences between men and women and how this affects drug activity, especially CNS depressant drugs. 

"The evidence points to the need for harm reduction initiatives, along with treatment interventions, which include pharmaceutical combined with psychosocial assistance to focus on the full range of problematic drugs.”

*Death rates were age standardised. This shows more clearly if there is any underlying trend in mortality because changes in the values of an age-standardised rate should not be affected by any changes in the distribution of the population by age.