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Cause and manner of death in drug-related fatality: an analysis of drug-related deaths recorded by coroners in England and Wales in 2000

Webb, L and Oyefeso, Adenekan and Schifano, Fabrizio and Cheeta, Survjit and Pollard, Mike and Hamid-Ghodse, A. (2003) Cause and manner of death in drug-related fatality: an analysis of drug-related deaths recorded by coroners in England and Wales in 2000. Drug and alcohol dependence, 72 (1). pp. 67-74. ISSN 0376-8716

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Abstract

This study investigated causes and manner of drug-related fatalities recorded in 2000 in the United Kingdom, measuring the ‘masked’ manner of death in cases typically recorded as overdose. A retrospective cohort study was used of 1037 cases of accidental drug-related fatalities reported by coroners in England and Wales to the National Programme of Substance Abuse Deaths. Whilst 802 cases were identified as direct acute overdose, representing 77% of the total accidental deaths, 23% of ‘overdose’ fatalities were caused by asphyxiation (7%), drug-related medical conditions (7%), non-drug-related conditions (4%), traumatic accidents (3%) and infections (2%). Younger people show higher risk of overdose and asphyxiation; older people show higher risk from pre-existing medical conditions. This study not only confirmed the high risk of overdose associated with heroin and polydrug use, but it also identified other high fatality risk factors for heroin/morphine users such as contracting an acute infection leading to septicaemia or endocarditis, or contracting a chronic infection such as HIV, HBV or HCV. In contrast, stimulants particularly featured in traumatic accidents, with amphetamine use most associated with cardio-vascular fatality. These findings highlight the ‘masked’ manner of death in cases commonly recorded as overdose and demonstrate the need for a more-detailed and systematic method of recording drug-related deaths in order to inform drug education and harm reduction strategies.

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