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Heroin and morphine linked drug deaths drop by 25 per cent

Released: 29 August 2012 Download PDF

Heroin and morphine are still the substances most commonly involved in drug poisoning deaths, but in 2011 there was a 25 per cent drop in fatalities, with 596 deaths.

The fall in deaths may be due to shortages in the availability of the illegal drug heroin in the UK, which according to the Serious Organised Crime Agency began in 2010 and continued in some areas in 2011/12.
In total there were 1,772 male and 880 female drug poisoning deaths in 2011, a decrease of 6 per cent on 2010 for males, but a 3 per cent increase for females.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed this in a bulletin out today which reports the number of drug-related deaths in England and Wales in 2011. These deaths involve a broad spectrum of substances, including legal and illegal drugs, prescription drugs and over-the-counter medicines.

The mortality rate from drug misuse (involving illegal drugs) was significantly higher in males than in females (43.4 and 14.4 deaths per million population for males and females respectively in 2011). The British Crime Survey (Home Office, 2011) showed that men were more than twice as likely as women to have used illicit drugs in the last year, which may explain the higher mortality rate from drug misuse in males.

In both males and females the largest proportion of drug-related deaths were from accidental poisonings (62 per cent in males and 51 per cent in females). In females just under half of all drug poisoning deaths were classified as suicides, increasing by 7 per cent from 391 deaths in 2010 to 418 deaths in 2011. In males a third were suicides, rising from 482 to 576 deaths between 2010 and 2011, a 20 per cent increase and the highest number since 2005.

Drug use and drug dependence are known causes of premature mortality, with drug poisoning accounting for nearly one in eight deaths among people in their 20s and 30s in 2011. The data supplied by ONS on drug-poisoning is used by the Department of Health, the Home Office and other bodies to evaluate the effectiveness of various strategies aimed at reducing these deaths.

Full details can be found in the bulletin Deaths Related to Drug Poisoning in England and Wales, 2011

Background notes

  1. Cause of death was defined using the International Classification of Diseases. The underlying cause of death codes used to select deaths related to drug poisoning and drug misuse are shown in Background notes 5 and 6 of the statistical bulletin 
  2. Links to further information about the quality of drug-related deaths data and also information about the underlying mortality data, including details on how the data is collected and coded are also available in the statistical bulletin.

  3. Further information is at Home Office (2011) ‘Drug Misuse Declared: Findings from the 2010/11 British Crime Survey, England and Wales’ 

  4. Also consulted SOCA (2011) ‘Serious Organised Crime Agency Annual Report and Accounts 2010/11’.
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