United Kingdom Country Drug Report 2019

Drug-induced deaths

Drug-induced deaths are deaths that can be attributed directly to the use of illicit drugs (i.e. poisonings and overdoses).

In 2016, the United Kingdom reported a record number of drug-related deaths, continuing the increasing trend since 2012. Males accounted for two thirds of drug-related deaths in 2016, and the mean age at time of death was 42 years. The average age of those dying has risen every year since 2006. Because of delays in the registration of deaths, the total number of drug-induced deaths in 2017 in the United Kingdom is not yet known, but data published on the number of deaths registered in Scotland in 2017 suggest that a further increase in the UK total can be expected.

Opioids (primarily heroin, but also methadone) were involved in the majority of deaths (almost 9 in 10). Other drugs commonly associated with deaths from illicit substance use include benzodiazepines, cocaine (frequently in combination with heroin) and amphetamines. The most recent data from the Office for National Statistics in 2017 show that fentanyl was present on the death certificate of 75 drug-induced deaths registered in England and Wales, and fentanyl analogues were present in 31 cases; both are record figures. The presence of multiple psychoactive substances in drug-induced deaths is becoming more common in the United Kingdom.

The number of deaths linked to new psychoactive substance (NPS) use remains relatively low but has increased since 2010. In 2017, 61 NPS-related deaths were registered in England and Wales (half the number registered in 2016). The number of deaths associated with synthetic cannabinoids continued to increase, while deaths related to synthetic cathinones decreased. In Scotland, in 2017, NPS were implicated in 337 deaths, a four-fold increase compared with 2015. Benzodiazepine-type NPS (mostly etizolam) were involved in almost all NPS-related deaths in Scotland (these are also counted as benzodiazepines deaths).

The drug-induced mortality rate among adults in the United Kingdom (aged 15-64 years) was 74 deaths per million in 2016.

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Methodological note: Analysis of trends is based only on those countries providing sufficient data to describe changes over the period specified. The reader should also be aware that monitoring patterns and trends in a hidden and stigmatised behaviour like drug use is both practically and methodologically challenging. For this reason, multiple sources of data are used for the purposes of analysis in this report. Caution is therefore required in interpretation, in particular when countries are compared on any single measure. Detailed information on methodology and caveats and comments on the limitations in the information set available can be found in the EMCDDA Statistical Bulletin.