Disparities in figures for drug-related deaths

UK estimates of 'drug-related deaths' (DRDs) include mortalities of drug abusers and non-drug abusers.

So these figures may not be the best way of monitoring the performance of Drug and Alcohol Action Teams, a study published in the online open access journal Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention and Policy suggests.

DRDs are currently used to help evaluate the success of Drug and Alcohol Action Teams in England and Wales, but the term's exact meaning varies according to European and national definitions. This means it is hard to know what sorts of deaths are included, the demographic profile of those who died, and whether or not individuals were tapped in to services designed to assist drug abusers.

Dr. Caryl Beynon from Liverpool John Moores University and colleagues studied details of 70 DRDs that occurred over an 18 month period in Liverpool - the UK city with the highest recorded number of DRDs in 2004.

They found their sample included drug abusers and non-drug abusers. The latter tended to be older, had no recent contact with drug-related agencies, and had different post-mortem drug profiles - they were more likely to have died from the toxic effects of anti-depressants, anti-psychotics and analgesics than from taking 'problematic' drugs (e.g. heroin, crack cocaine/cocaine). Generally the figures also excluded deaths related to drug misuse, such as those caused by bacterial and viral infections via sharing drug injecting equipment or contaminated drugs. DRD figures don't capture the true burden of drug-related mortality as the figures include a wide range of disparate deaths and exclude others which are clearly related to the abuse of drugs, the authors conclude.

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