Heroin deaths continue to fall

The number of deaths related to heroin and morphine fell from 41 per cent of total drug-related deaths in 2010 to 32 per cent in 2011, according to figures released by the International Centre for Drug Policy (ICDP) at St George’s, University of London.

The total number of drug-related deaths in the UK fell by seven per cent from 1,883 in 2010 to 1,757 in 2011, says the National programme on substance abuse deaths (np-SAD) 2012 report, continuing the downward trend that saw deaths fall by 14 per cent between 2009 and 2010. The number of deaths from legal highs ‘remained steady’ in 2011, however, following a large increase the previous year.

Deaths related to methadone rose by four per cent to 31 per cent between 2010 and 2011, while deaths involving other opiates including prescription painkillers rose by six per cent to 28 per cent. Deaths involving cocaine rose from 8.7 to 9.2 per cent of the total and amphetamines from 2.9 to 3.7 per cent. The report covers deaths that have been formally investigated, and includes information from coroners and police forces across the UK. More than 70 per cent of the deaths were of males, and 66 per cent were under the age of 45.

‘Whilst an overall decline in drug-related deaths in the UK is indeed excellent news, further monitoring of the situation needs to happen over the next few years,’ said acting director of the ICDP, Professor Fabrizio Schifano. ‘Particular attention needs to be paid to both the emerging issues of novel psychoactive substances, which are commonly known as ‘legal highs’, and the increasing concern relating to prescription drugs’ misuse and related fatalities.’ 

Meanwhile, Scottish GPs have ‘minimal’ awareness of the country’s naloxone programme, according to research by the University of Aberdeen. ‘GPs tend to classify naloxone provision as a specialist service and therefore assume it is not part of their remit,’ says the document, including ‘those with higher involvement of specialist training in substance misuse’. The report calls for improved training and information resources for GPs. Two of Northern Ireland’s health trusts – the Belfast Trust and the South-Eastern Trust – have failed to distribute naloxone, despite it being available to them since July 2012, the BBC has reported.

Drug-related deaths in the UK at www.sgul.ac.uk

General practitioner engagement with the Scottish National Naloxone Programme: a needs assessment project at www.healthscotland.com/documents/6258.aspx