Drug-related deaths in Ireland, 2004–2013
The latest figures from the National Drug-Related Deaths Index (NDRDI) show that a total of 679 deaths in Ireland during 2013 were linked to drug use. These figures are contained in a recent NDRDI report which provides information on deaths from poisoning, trauma or medical causes in which drugs were a factor in the fatality during the period 2004–2013.1
Speaking at the launch of the report on 15 December 2015, Minister of State for Drugs, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, expressed his concern about the rising number of deaths, the increase in heroin deaths and, in particular, heroin deaths linked to injecting. He said the government has taken steps to prevent these deaths by expanding needle exchange services and making naloxone for the treatment of opiate overdose more widely available.
Some of the key findings of the report are:
- Alcohol was implicated in 1 in 3 (137) of all poisoning deaths in 2013, and alcohol poisoning alone claimed one life each week.
- 234 people (60%) died in 2013 because they took a mixture of drugs.
- Heroin deaths increased in 2013 for the first time since 2009. In 2013, 86 poisoning deaths (one in five) were heroin-related and in almost 50% of these deaths, the user was injecting at the time.
The NDRDI reports on poisoning deaths (also known as overdoses), where the drug, or combination of drugs, actually poisoned the person, and on non-poisonings, which are deaths as a result of trauma (such as hanging) or medical reasons (such as cardiac events) among people who use drugs. The latest figures on both poisoning and non-poisoning deaths are presented in Table 1.
Poisoning deaths in 2013
The annual number of poisoning deaths increased from 361 in 2012 to 387 in 2013. As in all previous years, males accounted for the majority of deaths (68% in 2013). The median age was 41 years.
Almost two thirds (60%) of all poisoning deaths involved more than one drug (polydrug use):
- Alcohol was involved in 35 per cent of poisoning deaths in 2013, making it the drug most commonly involved in poisoning deaths. Alcohol alone was responsible for 15 per cent of all deaths.
- Methadone was implicated in a quarter of poisonings in 2013. The majority of deaths (94%) in which methadone was implicated were polydrug poisonings.
Two fifths (41%) of poisonings in 2013 involved benzodiazepines, almost all (99%) of which involved polydrug use.
The number of poisoning deaths in which heroin was implicated increased for the first time since 2009, being a factor in 22 per cent of poisoning deaths in 2013:
- Over two-fifths (42%) of people for whom heroin (injecting or smoking) was implicated in their death were not alone at the time they took the drug.
- Half (49%) of those who died from a heroin-related death were known to be injecting at the time of their death.
- Three in five (62%) of deaths in 2013, where heroin was injected, occurred in a private dwelling.
Over two fifths (43%) of those who died of a poisoning death in 2013 had a history of mental health illness.
The number of deaths involving antidepressants and other prescription drugs has increased. Citalopram is the most common antidepressant implicated in these deaths, being implicated in over one fifth (22, 22.4%) of individual deaths involving antidepressants in 2013.
Non-poisoning deaths in 2013
The number of non-poisoning deaths recorded among drug users decreased slightly, from 295 in 2012 to 292 in 2013 (Figure 1). In 2013, males accounted for 77 per cent of all non-poisoning deaths. Almost two fifths (38%) of those who died of non-poisoning had a history of mental illness.
Deaths owing to hanging continue to be the main cause of non-poisoning deaths, accounting for 25 per cent of all non-poisoning deaths in 2013 (Figure 2). In 2013, almost two thirds (59%) of deaths owing to hanging were among people who had a history of mental health illness.
The most common medical causes of death were cardiac events, accounting for 18 per cent of all non-poisoning deaths in 2013 (Figure 2).
The data show that a younger cohort died from traumatic causes (median age 34 years) in comparison to medical causes (median age 47 years).
Figure 2 Non-poisoning deaths among drug users, by main type of death, NDRDI 2004–2013 (N=1,748)
1 Health Research Board (2015) Drug-related deaths and deaths among drug users in Ireland: 2013 figures from the National
Drug-Related Deaths Index. Dublin: Health Research Board. www.drugsandalcohol.ie/24676