Home > Update on direct drug-related deaths in Ireland.

Lynn, Ena and Long, Jean and Coleman, Lorraine (2007) Update on direct drug-related deaths in Ireland. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 22, Summer 2007, pp. 25-26.

PDF (Drugnet Ireland, issue 22) - Published Version

Problem drug use can lead to premature death. Deaths can occur as a result of overdose (both intentional and unintentional), actions taken under the influence of drugs, medical consequences and incidental causes. Drug-related deaths and mortality among drug users are indicators of the consequences of problem drug use in Ireland.  

The data presented in this article provide the number of direct drug-related deaths between 1980 and 2004, based on unpublished data from the Central Statistics Office (CSO).  Direct drug-related deaths are those occurring as a result of overdose.  At the European level, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) has developed a standardised method for extracting data on drug-related deaths from the mortality registers in all member states.1 Staff at the CSO2 extracted and collated the data in February 2007, using the EMCDDA’s ‘Selection B’ definition of drug-related death.  

Figure 1 presents the numbers of direct drug-related deaths in Ireland between 1980 and 2004, extracted from the General Mortality Register.  There were few such deaths in the 1980s.  Between 1990 and 1994, there was a small but steady increase in the number of drug-related deaths, and between 1995 and 1999 a substantial increase. This was followed by a considerable decline in the number of deaths between 2000 and 2002.  In 2003, the number of drug-related deaths increased marginally when compared to 2001 and 2002, with a further increase in 2004.    

Between 2001 and 2004, 60% of direct drug-related deaths were opiate-related.  In 2000 two (1.8%) drug-related deaths were due to cocaine alone; this increased to nine (8%) in 2004.  The coding system used does not allow one to extract data on cocaine and other drugs combined, therefore these figures are an underestimate of cocaine-related deaths. 

Figure 2 presents the numbers of direct drug-related deaths in Dublin and in the rest of Ireland between 1980 and 2004.  

According to data from the General Mortality Register, almost all direct drug-related deaths between 1980 and 1994 occurred in Dublin. Between 1995 and 1999, there was a substantial increase in such deaths in Dublin, from 33 to 96, and a steady increase outside the Dublin area, from 3 to 26.

Between 2000 and 2003, there was a sharp decline in direct drug-related deaths in Dublin, from 83 to 46.  Between 2003 and 2004, there was a considerable increase, from 46 to 60 drug-related deaths.  This is the first year such an increase has been reported in Ireland since 1999.  This trend has been reported in other European countries.  Factors contributing to this trend may include, in addition to the increase in cocaine-related deaths mentioned above, the ageing population among drug users and an increase in both the availability and purity of heroin reported in Europe generally. 

During the period 2000 to 2004, there was a continued increase in drug-related deaths outside Dublin, from 30 in 2000 to 52 in 2004 In 2003, the number of such deaths outside Dublin exceeded for the first time the number in Dublin; however, the trend reversed in 2004, with more drug-related deaths reported in Dublin than outside Dublin.  The data for outside Dublin follow trends in problem opiate use in that geographical area.   



1.  EMCDDA (2002) The DRD-Standard, version 3.0: EMCDDA standard protocol for the EU Member States to collect data and report figures for the key indicator drug-related deaths by the standard Reitox tables. EMCDDA project CT.02.P1.05. Lisbon: European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction.

2. The authors would like to thank Joseph Keating at the Central Statistics Office for extracting and collating the data on direct drug-related deaths from the General Mortality Register. 

Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Substances (not alcohol/tobacco)
Issue Title
Issue 22, Summer 2007
April 2007
Page Range
pp. 25-26
Health Research Board
Issue 22, Summer 2007
Accession Number
HRB (Available)

Repository Staff Only: item control page