Social Trends: Big increase in deaths of drug users

Changes in drug use and diet
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The Independent Online
NEW OFFICIAL figures show that drugs were responsible for more than 2,100 deaths in 1997, three times as many as in previous years.

The total gives a more realistic picture of the impact of drugs on British society, and it is based on a broader definition, which includes fatal accidents involving drug users. Earlier surveys had excluded deaths due to indirect or long-term effects of drugs, such as Aids or road traffic accidents.

The figures are published today in Social Trends, an annual snapshot of life in Britain produced by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

It reports that officials from the Home Office and ONS have been working together to "reach a closer approximation of the number of deaths due to drug misuse".

The new definition records that 1,223 people in England and Wales died in 1997 from drug-related accidents, 474 from drug-related suicides and 418 where the cause of death was undetermined but where drugs were involved.

Social Trends reports that 61 British motorists, passengers and pedestrians killed in road accidents in 1997 tested positive for illegal drugs and 27 for medicinal drugs.

A further 97 were over the legal limit for alcohol.

Figures for drug-related deaths in England and Wales have remained at about 700 per year since 1994, with the total for Scotland about 120.

Social Trends includes a special report, compiled by the Institute for the Study of Drug Dependence, giving an over-view of the extent and consequences of drug use in Britain.

The report includes statistics demonstrating the widespread use of illicit substances, particularly among younger members of the population.

Home Office research shows that 57 per cent of men between 20 and 24 have tried illegal drugs and more than half of the total number of people arrested by police in Manchester, London and Cambridge tested positive for cannabis.

Police seizures of cannabis increased seven-fold between 1991 and 1996. The report also notes a "worrying" increase in seizures of heroin.

It concludes that despite the efforts of researchers there are still serious gaps in our knowledge of the extent of drug use in Britain. The report states: "We cannot describe adequately those who are not receiving treatment, nor can we show how drugs are impacting on communities. We cannot say much about the degree to which drugs are available on our streets."

Last night Harry Shapiro, spokesman for the Institute for the Study of Drug Dependence, said: "We must realise that this wider definition of drug-misuse-related deaths includes people who would not normally be regarded as drug-users, but who use drugs, including paracetamol, as a vehicle for suicide."

He pointed out that even with the wider definition of drug-related deaths, the figure was only a fraction of the 140,000 people who died from tobacco and alcohol misuse each year. He said: "What we really need to know is how many people are reporting for treatment at accident and emergency departments. Who are the people being admitted, under what conditions and after using what drugs?"

n Despite the revolution in British eating habits we are spending a much smaller proportion of our income on food.

Social Trends says Britons are allocating a much greater proportion of their income to buying the many household goods that have come on to the market in the past 30 years.

Food, on which we spent 17 per cent of our income in 1971, now accounts for just 11 per cent, despite the almost constant cookery programmes on television. Spending on consumer durables such asmicrowave ovens, video recorders and personal computers has trebled since 1971.

Faces of the Nation

Younger women have fewer children. On average, women born in 1937 had 1.9 children before they were 30, while those born in 1967 had just 1.3.

Jack and Chloe were the most popular names given to babies in 1997.

In 1961 domestic water consumption was 85 litres per head per day. By 1997 it had risen to 160.

There were almost 12,700 permanent exclusions from schools in England in 1996-97.

Visiting the pub is the most common activity outside home. In 1997- 98, 75 per cent of people over 16 said they had done so in the previous three months.n The percentage of women in Great Britain drinking more than 14 units of alcohol a week increased from 9 per cent to 14 per cent between 1984 and 1996-97.

The number of working days lost through labour disputes in 1997 was the lowest since records began in 1891.

The average duration of a stay in NHS hospitals as an in-patient has fallen from eight days in 1981 to five days in 1996-97.

Infants are more at risk of homicide than any other group, with a rate of 55.7 per million of population in 1997.

In 1997 the average price paid for a dwelling in London was, at nearly pounds 106,000, almost double the amount in Northern Ireland.

The number of complaints about domestic noise in England and Wales in 1995-1996 was more than six times the rate in 1981.

The area of woodland in the United Kingdom has more than doubled this century, to cover more than 10 per cent of the land area in 1996.

Smoking in England is increasing among children; in 1996, by age 15, one-third of girls and more than one-quarter of boys were regular smokers.