28 February 2013

Annual deaths related to heroin and morphine are continuing to drop significantly, falling from forty-one per cent of total drug-related deaths in the UK in 2010 to thirty-two per cent in 2011. However they still remained the drugs responsible for the most deaths, as detailed in a new report, led by Professor Fabrizio Schifano from the University of Hertfordshire.

Fall in total UK drug-related deaths

The National Programme on Substance Abuse Deaths (np-SAD) 2012 report also reveals that deaths from ‘legal highs’ – some of which have now been banned – remained steady following a large increase in the previous year.

In total, UK drug-related deaths fell by seven per cent from 1,883 in 2010 to 1,757 in 2011. This continues a two-year downward trend that saw deaths fall by fourteen per cent from 2009 to 2010.

Professor Fabrizio Schifano, acting director of the ICDP at St George’s, University of London and professor of clinical pharmacology at the University of Hertfordshire, said: “Whilst an overall decline in drug-related deaths in the UK is indeed excellent news, further monitoring of the situation needs to happen over the next few years. Particular attention needs to be paid to both the emerging issues of novel psychoactive substances, which are commonly known as ‘legal highs’, and the increasing concern relating to prescription drugs' misuse and related fatalities.”

Deaths from legal highs' remain steady

A group of former ‘legal highs’ that was banned in 2010 – the methcathinones, which include mephedrone – was involved in twenty-one deaths in 2011. This was down from thirty-one in 2010, although this had followed a steep rise from five in 2009. Deaths from emerging new drugs such as amphetamine-type substances, and drug derived from the opium poppy plant – many of which are prescription painkillers, also increased.

It was also reported that there was a small rise in deaths from stimulants such as cocaine, amphetamines and ecstasy-type substances in 2011.

Majority from accidental overdose

The np-SAD report was compiled by the International Centre for Drug Policy at St George’s, University of London. It outlines drug-related deaths occurring in 2011 that have been formally investigated. It details where a type of drug is involved in a death, either on its own or in combination with another substance, and includes regional breakdowns.

The report contains information reported by coroners in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man, as well as police forces in Scotland, and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency.
The demographics of the deceased were consistent with previous years, with the majority of overall UK deaths being of males, at seventy-two per cent. Most people were under forty-five years old (sixty-six per cent), and white (ninety-seven per cent). Most of the deaths were the result of an accidental overdose.

Download a copy of the full report.