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Health Research Board. Health Research Board reports latest drug-related deaths figures. (24 Jun 2023)

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Findings show an increase in poisonings and reflect both the rise of cocaine use and dangers of mixing drugs.

New preliminary figures from the Health Research Board (HRB) on drug-related deaths show there were 409 poisoning deaths in 2020.*  There were also 397 non-poisoning deaths, with hanging the most common cause of these deaths.  The findings were presented at the Citizens Assembly on Drug Use on Saturday 24 June 2023.

Commenting on the preliminary findings, Health Research Board Chief Executive, Dr Mairéad O’Driscoll said: 

“These findings clearly demonstrate the impact that drug use has in Irish society. HRB findings increase understanding of both the causes death and the circumstances in which people who use drugs die. This can help inform preventative measures, which we hope will ultimately save lives.” 

Dr Suzi Lyons, Senior Researcher at the Health Research Board, said: 

“Our findings are a really important way of looking at the overall burden of drug use in the population. 

We can clearly see that mixing drugs is a major factor in poisoning deaths.  We also see that the growing prevalence of cocaine use in society is reflected in deaths with cocaine implicated in 130 deaths in 2020 compared to 24 in 2011. Hangings were a main cause of non-poisoning deaths. Three in five people who die by hanging, also had a known history of mental health issues”. 

Key findings 

409 deaths were poisonings and 8 in 10 of these deaths involved more than one drug

  • 7 in 10 involved opioids. Methadone was implicated in 3 in 10 poisoning deaths and heroin was implicated 2 in 10 poisoning cases
  • Almost 6 in 10 involved benzodiazepines and many of them had more than one type of benzodiazepine
  • 3 in 10 involved cocaine
  • 2 in 10 involved alcohol (as part of a poly drug poisoning)
  • Almost 6 in 10 involved other prescription drugs, most commonly antidepressants and antiepileptics 

Socio-demographic characteristics of people who died from poisoning 

  • More than 6 in 10 were male
  • More than half of men were aged 42 years or younger
  • More than half of women were aged 45 years or younger
  • Half had a history of mental health issues
  • 1 in 8 were homeless
  • 1 in 5 had ever injected
  • In 4 in 10 of poisoning deaths, the person was alone
  • 11% died in homeless accommodation
  • 9% died in a public place or building 

There were 397 non-poisoning deaths among people with a history of drug use. These were primarily the result of hanging or cardiac events. A quarter (108) of non-poisoning deaths were as a result hanging. Of those, two thirds had a history of mental health issues. 

These findings represent nearly 12,000 potential life years lost because of poisoning deaths and more than 10,000 potential life years lost because of non-poisoning deaths in just one year.

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