An analysis of hospital and other records in London has revealed the extent of deaths and ill health in people who use heroin.
In the paper, Causes of hospital admission and mortality among people who use heroin: a cohort study comparing relative and absolute risks by Dan Lewer; Emily J Tweed; Robert W Aldridge and Katherine I Morley, the shocking scale of the impact on health of people using street heroin is suggested by an academic analysis of data on both deaths and hospital admissions.
Most excess morbidity and mortality among people who use heroin is caused by common long-term conditions – 42% of the deaths are ‘drug-related’ (e.g. overdose deaths). Of the non-drug related deaths (58%), the largest groups were deaths by liver disease (21%) and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) (7%).
80% of the hospital admissions for this group were not for drug use related issues (e.g. non-fatal overdose) but for other common conditions e.g. skin infections (9%); alcohol (9%); COPD (7%) and head injury (5%)
Although similar data sources exist for Scotland, no similar analysis is currently available.
Reacting to the report, SDF CEO David Liddell said:
‘This is a very important study. It highlights that there is a greater number of people dying of other drug related causes than of fatal overdose. If these proportions were replicated in Scotland, which seems likely, we would have had well over 2000 people dying of all drug related causes in 2018.
“SDF continues to do work around Staying Alive In Scotland that supports ADPs and other stakeholders to reduce all deaths related to substance use and not only overdose deaths. There is significant evidence base for what works and we work to involve people in planning actions that deliver a reduction in deaths.
“Support and buy-in has been encouraging but we need this across service providers and communities to maximise impact.”