Alcohol causes half of all drug fatalities

Deaths caused by alcohol are increasing and account for neary half of all drug fatalities, while fatalities from illegal drugs are dropping dramatically.

Official figures show 2010 recorded the first major drop in drug deaths following a rise in fatalities between 2004 and 2009.

During those years, there were a total of 3,972 deaths among drugs users.

Meanwhile, the drugs-related deaths index, compiled by the Health Research Board, shows that of the 323 deaths from the toxic effects (poisonings) of drugs:

*Alcohol was involved in 147 deaths in 2010 (46% of all deaths), compared to 142 fatalities in 2009 (38%);

*Heroin was implicated in 70 deaths in 2010 (21%), down from 115 (31%) in 2009;

*Methadone was involved in 56 deaths (16.5%), compared to 69 (18%);

*Cocaine was implicated in 20 deaths (13%), down from 53 (14%) in 2009.

In relation to fatalities caused by just one substance, alcohol accounted for 76 deaths in 2010, compared to 61 in 2009. In contrast, deaths from an opiate only fell from 60 to 46.

The data showed benzodiazepines (prescribed tranquillisers acquired legally or illicitly) were the second most common drug involved in deaths, with 94 fatalities reported in 2010. In 19 of those, two or more benzos were taken.

Dr Suzi Lyons of the Health Research Board said falls in heroin and cocaine deaths were the “main drivers” in the overall reduction in poisonings.

“The overall trend across Europe is one of reductions in drug deaths. Between 2004 and 2009, we’ve seen numbers of deaths increasing. This is the first major decrease.”

She said the figures for 2011 would show if this was a trend or whether 2010 was a one-off.

She said a heroin drought in late 2010 could have led to a misleading drop in heroin deaths.

She said there had been a “significant drop” in cocaine deaths in recent years, from a high of 66 in 2007 to 20.

Dr Lyons said alcohol was the country’s biggest problem drug and the one most commonly treated. She said the number of deaths remained “consistently high”.

She said tranquilisers known as benzodiazepines remained a “huge problem” and were typically implic-ated in deaths when taken with other drugs that caused respiratory depression, such as alcohol and opiates.

Drug deaths

*Total number of drug-related deaths isdown from 652 in 2009 to 575 in 2010.

*Of these, poisonings dropped from 374 to 323.

*Non-poisonings fell from 278 to 252.

*Of the non-poisonings, 131 were due to medical causes, such as heart or respiratory problems.

*A further 112 deaths were due to trauma, such as hanging, drowning, or violence.


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