Worrying rise in deaths linked to drug use among women

Worrying rise in deaths linked to drug use among women

Health officials say this worrying trend is part of a broader development where deaths linked to drug use — such as cardiac or liver damage and suicides — rather than direct overdoses has increased far more among female users than male users.

There has been a four-fold rise in drug-related hangings by women over the last 10 years, Irish research shows.

Health officials say this worrying trend is part of a broader development where deaths linked to drug use — such as cardiac or liver damage and suicides — rather than direct overdoses has increased far more among female users than male users.

The report, published to coincide with International Overdose Awareness day, was compiled by the HSE National Social Inclusion Office using Health Research Board drug deaths data for 2008 to 2017.

The total number of deaths has grown over the years, from 630 in 2008 to 786 in 2017, the highest death toll to date.

Poisonings (overdoses) have actually fallen, from 387 to 376, peaking at 401 in 2013.

Non-poisonings (where the person has a history of drug use) rose by 37%, from 243 to 410.

Based on these trends, the authors, Dr David Evans, Dr Eamon Keenan and Nicki Killeen, said the difference between poisonings and non-poisonings will “exacerbate” in the next five years.

The study reveals a stark difference in the scale of the increases in non-poisoning deaths by gender:

    • 113% increase in female non-poisoning deaths, almost twice that among males (up 58%);
    • Female hangings have increased by 316% since 2008, or a four-fold rise from six to 25;
    • The rise in hangings among women included a 56% increase in 2016 (compared to 8% among men).

    The report said that other female trauma deaths (such as drowning or road traffic collisions) increased by 60% since 2008, with a 46% rise between 2016 and 2017.

    Authors found that 63% of all people, female and male, who died from hangings had a history of mental health problems.

    The report said: “Although the number of female non-poisonings is small (98 in total for 2017 with 25 hangings) this would warrant further investigation to determine the factors that may contribute to this pattern.”

    It said one report by the EU drugs agency suggested that older women who use drugs may need specific support services to tackle drug use, childcare responsibilities, and the trauma of having children removed.

    The report said stabilisation in poisonings is “a welcome development” and has been achieved during a period of increasing drug prevalence and drug availability in Ireland.

    Having comprehensive drug strategies that emphasise an enhanced harm reduction approach during this period may have been a contributory factor,” it said.

    The report said illicit drugs comprise 38% of poisonings and include heroin, cocaine, and MDMA. It said deaths from heroin have fallen and said this reduction coincides with the introduction in 2015 of naloxone, which reverses the effects of opioid overdoses.

    It said there has been a steady increase in cocaine deaths since 2010, and in 2017 deaths increased by 26% compared to 2016, adding that cocaine deaths may be underestimated.

    The report said that while MDMA (ecstasy) deaths are four to five times lower than both cocaine and heroin deaths, they have doubled since 2008, and increased by 75% since 2016, with half of the reported deaths in 2017 involving polydrug use.

    It said that despite a reduction in deaths involving alcohol, the drug is involved in a third of poisonings.

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