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Preventing drug related deaths and blood-borne viruses

Preventing drug related deaths

Since 1993, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has reported the numbers of deaths related to drug poisoning in England and Wales, including legal as well as illegal drugs, and accidental poisoning and suicides, as well as deaths due to drug misuse. Deaths due to drug misuse are a subset of drug poisoning deaths and are published for England and Wales both combined and separately, broken down by age group, gender and underlying cause of death. This table presents deaths due to drug misuse figures for England from 1993 to 2010.

The number of deaths related to drug misuse in England decreased in 2010 to 1625 from 1731 in 2009 – below the peak of 1697 seen in 2001.  This reflects official drug treatment statistics, which show that there are encouraging trends in drug treatment data, such as new presentations to treatment in the under 30s falling.

Our view is that the high-water mark of the heroin epidemic that began in the 1980s has now passed, with relatively few presentations for opiate misuse among the under 25s, and a decline in presentations for heroin use generally – particularly in those parts of the country where the heroin epidemic took hold earlier.

Any death related to misuse of drugs is a tragedy for the victim, for their families and their friends and we work closely with local agencies to prevent death related to drug misuse.

For those that do misuse drugs, the best way to prevent death is to support people to recover from addiction. The 2010 Drug Strategy is clear that the goal of all treatment is to enable people to overcome dependence and achieve sustainable recovery.

More information

Drug-related deaths are hard to define and to quantify. We use the definition set out by the Office of National Statistics (ONS), which produces national data on drug-related deaths:

‘Deaths where the underlying cause is poisoning, drug abuse, or drug dependence and where any of the substances are controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act (1971).’
ONS Health Statistics Quarterly 31 (2006) 


Confidential inquiries

The NTA published an updated guide (5 January 2011) on setting up a local review process into drug-related deaths.

The document contains ideas and examples of local areas investigating and reviewing the causes of drug-related deaths. All are drawn from existing local systems in England. The document also takes partnerships through the chain of decisions they will want to consider in setting up their own review processes, or improving an existing process.

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