Alcohol was involved in 137 (35%) poisoning deaths in 2013, more than any other single drug

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The latest HRB figures show that almost two people died each day in Ireland during 2013 from poisoning, trauma or medical causes linked with drug use. A total of 679 people died in 2013. There have been 6002 deaths among people who use drugs in the past decade.

  • Alcohol was implicated in 1 in 3 (137) of all poisoning deaths in 2013 and alcohol poisoning alone claimed one life each week.
  • 234 people (60%) died in 2013 because they took a mixture of drugs. Taking a combination of drugs e.g. alcohol and benzodiazepines is more dangerous.
  • Heroin on the rise again for the first time since 2009. In 2013, 86 poisoning deaths (one in five) were heroin related and in almost 50% of these deaths, the user was injecting at the time.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Minister of State for Drugs, Aodhán Ó Ríordán expressed his concern about the rising number of deaths, the increase in heroin deaths and, in particular, heroin deaths linked to injecting.

“There are no easy solutions to addressing what is a very complex problem. That’s why Government has taken a number of actions to reduce drug-related deaths, including the expansion of needle exchange services and making naloxone for the treatment of opiate overdose more widely available. I believe lives will be saved as a result of these initiatives”.

Graham Love, Chief Executive at the Health Research Board said,

“It is not just people who use illegal drugs that are dying. Alcohol is implicated in more poisoning deaths than any other single drug, and alcohol poisonings alone claim one life per week. Mixing drugs is another dangerous behaviour that is resulting in death. For example, 80% of drugs implicated along with alcohol were prescription drugs.”

Key findings

The Health Research Board reports on poisonings deaths (also known as overdose )– where the drug, or combination of drugs, actually poisoned the person and on non-poisonings, which are deaths among people who use drugs as a result of trauma, such as hanging or medical reasons, such as cardiac events.

Poisoning deaths in 2013

  • The annual number of poisoning deaths increased from 361 in 2012, to 387 in 2013        
  • Almost 7 in 10 poisoning deaths were males.
  • Many of these deaths were premature. The median age of those who died was 41 years.
  • Polydrugs (use of more than one drug) accounted 234 (or 60%) of poisoning deaths.
  • Alcohol was involved in 137 (35%) of poisoning deaths, more than any other single drug. Alcohol alone was responsible for 59 (15%) poisoning deaths.
  • Methadone was implicated in a quarter of poisonings –similar to 2012.
  • There were 86 deaths where heroin was implicated, equating to one-in-five of all poisoning deaths. This is the first time since 2009 that the number of heroin-related deaths has increased.
    Half (49%) of those who died from a heroin-related death were known to be injecting at the time of their death.
    Two in every five (42%) people who died where heroin was implicated were not alone at the time they took the drug, therefore there may have been an opportunity to prevent these deaths
  • Benzodiazepines were implicated in 160 deaths, an increase of 24% from 129 in 2012. Two-in-five (41%) poisonings in 2013 involved benzodiazepines.
  • New psychoactive substances (NPS) were implicated in 15 deaths, increasing from five deaths in 2012. The majority (80%) of NPS deaths involved more than one drug.
  • Over two in-every-five (43%) of those who died from poisoning had a history of mental ill health.


Focus on polydrug poisonings 2013

  • Almost two thirds (60%) of poisoning deaths in 2013 involved use of more than one drug.
  • Deaths due to polydrug use have increased by 98% in the past decade, from 118 in 2004 to 234 in 2013.
    57% of deaths where alcohol was implicated involved other drugs, mainly benzodiazepines.
    94% of deaths where methadone was implicated were polydrug poisonings, mainly benzodiazepines.
  • 72% of deaths where heroin was implicated were polydrug poisonings, mainly benzodiazepines (Table 6).
  • The majority (80%) deaths where NPS were implicated involved polydrugs. The other main drugs involved in these poisoning deaths were cocaine, MDMA and benzodiazepines.


Non-poisoning deaths in 2013

  • The number of non-poisoning deaths recorded among people who use drugs decreased slightly from 295 in 2012, to 292 in 2013. These deaths are the result of trauma or medical causes.
  • Males accounted for 77% of all non-poisoning deaths.
  • Death due to hanging accounted for 25% of all non-poisoning deaths.
  • Over half (44, 59%) of people who died due to hanging had a history of mental illness.
  • The most common medical cause of death was a cardiac event, accounting for almost a fifth (52, 18%) of all non-poisoning deaths.