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clinmed/2000100004v1 (November 14, 2000)
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Deaths from drugs of abuse in Sheffield 1997 1999: What are the implications for GPs prescribing to heroin addicts?

Phillip Oliver, and Jenny Keen

Objectives To describe the characteristics and circumstances of death from drugs of abuse in Sheffield for the period of Jan 1st 1997 Dec 31st 1999, with particular attention to the role of prescription drugs. Design Retrospective analysis of coroners records. Setting City of Sheffield. Participants All those who died from an accidental drug of abuse related poisoning between 1 January 1997 and 31 December 1999. Main outcome measures Socio-demographics, toxicology results, prescription drug status, time of death. Results A total of 82 deaths were identified over the three years. Deaths rose by 112% over the study period. Heroin or drug combinations including heroin was considered the primary cause of death in 70% of the cases. A significant increase in deaths involving more than one drug was seen. The proportion of deaths involving methadone fell against a background of increased prescribing. Deaths involving concomitant use of alcohol and/or benzodiazepines appear to be increasing. Conclusions The rise in the number of drug related deaths seen in Sheffield over the study period was probably due to a complex inter-relation between a number of factors. On the basis of the data presented here methadone seems unlikely to have contributed to this rise whereas benzodiazepine involvement can not be ruled out.