Tranquillisers and alcohol blamed for majority of drug deaths

PRESCRIPTION tranquillisers and alcohol are the two substances most implicated in drug deaths due to poisonings, new figures show.

Updated information from the National Drug-Related Deaths Index (NDRDI) show there have been a total of 3,465 deaths from drugs between 1998 and 2007.

This includes 2,120 deaths from poisonings, which are directly related deaths due to the toxic effects of drugs.

A further 1,345 deaths are described as non-poisonings, which include deaths from trauma, such as violence or accidents, and medical causes, such as heart, brain or respiratory problems.

Of the deaths by poisoning:

* Benzodiazepines (prescription tranquillisers) were involved in 793 deaths, 37% of the total.

* Alcohol was involved in 518 deaths (24%).

* Opiates, other than heroin, were involved in 510 deaths (24%).

* Heroin was involved in a total of 442 deaths (21%).

* Prescription anti-depressants were involved in 426 deaths (20%).

* Methadone (prescription and illicit) involved in 414 deaths (20%).

* Other prescription drugs involved in 375 deaths (18%).

* Cocaine involved in 217 deaths (10%).

According to the index, just over half of deaths involved more than one substance (polysubstance cases).

Alcohol is only included where it contributes to a polysubstance death.

The index shows a particularly large increase in the number of cases involving benzodiazepines. It stayed largely unchanged between 1998 (78) and 2005 (80), but has jumped since then to 113 in both 2006 and 2007.

Alcohol is also playing a more significant role, involved in 35 cases in 1998 and 53 cases in 2006, jumping to 77 cases in 2007.

The number of cases involving cocaine has risen sharply. It rose from five in 1998, to 19 in 2004, to 36 in 2005, to 52 in 2006 and 63 in 2007. In 2007, it accounted for the same number of deaths as heroin.

In total, the number of poisoning deaths more than doubled, from 242 in 1998 to a height of 491 in 2006, dropping to 476 in 2007.

The Health Research Board (HRB), which compiles the index, stressed that the figures for 2007 may yet be revised as late inquests for that year become available.

The index shows a large rise in 2007 in poisoning deaths in both the southern and south-eastern regional drug task forces areas.

In the southern task force – covering Cork and Kerry – the number of deaths has risen from 14 in 1998 to 28 in 2005, before rising to 33 in 2006 and 43 in 2007.

In the south-eastern task force – covering Carlow, Kilkenny, Waterford, Wexford and south Tipperary – the number of deaths rose from 10 in 1998, to 17 in 2005, jumping to 27 in 2007.

The index said 102 people died through violence: 46 from shootings, 37 from stabbings and 19 from assaults.


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