Government targets for cutting deaths due to drug misuse are even further from being met than previously thought, research from Liverpool John Moores University suggests. The number of deaths caused by drug use could be at least double the official total according to the study, reported in the January/February issue of DrugScope's Druglink magazine.
The research, carried out by the Centre for Public Health at John Moores University, looked into the causes of death among a sample of known drug users and found that over half would not have been classified as a drug-related death under the Governments definition, which mainly considers drug toxicity and drug-related mental and behavioural disorders.
A significant proportion of the other fatalities, however, were caused by bacterial or viral infections, liver or cardiovascular diseases or intentional self-harm. According to the researchers, these causes of death were likely to be associated with the victims substance use.
Dr Caryl Benyon, one of the lead researchers of the report, said: Substance use plays a significant role in the deaths of drug users whose deaths are not officially classified as drug-related deaths. Deaths from infections, such as hepatitis C, and suicides, for example, are going unrecognised as drug-related although in combination they may constitute a larger proportion of all deaths of problematic drug users.
Martin Barnes, chief executive of DrugScope, said: The findings are extremely worrying and suggest that official figures do not reflect the full extent of deaths resulting from drug use. The tragedy is that most if not all drug-related deaths are avoidable. Prevention and treatment are key, but the research highlights the importance of harm reduction measures such as needle exchanges, particularly for drug users not accessing other means of support.
The study looked at 191 fatalities among people receiving drug treatment in the north west of England between 2003 and 2005. Of that number, only 59 deaths were officially classified as a drug-related death.
The Government had set a target to reduce drug related deaths by 20 per cent between 1999 and 2004. However, the total for 2004, 1,427 official drug-related deaths in England and Wales, showed a reduction of just 9 per cent since 1999. The report, the first of its kind, demonstrates that the total number of deaths associated with drug use could be much higher and opens the possibility that drug-related deaths could in fact be rising.
Posted: 15th January 2007
For more information please contact Ruth Goldsmith in the DrugScope Press Office on 020 7940 7517 (07736 895563 out of hours) or at firstname.lastname@example.org