Drug-related deaths and mortality among drug users (26)

National statistics on ‘drug deaths’ usually refer to acute deaths directly related to drug consumption or ‘overdoses’, although differences between countries exist (27). The EMCDDA key indicator ‘Drug-related deaths’ is also defined in this way (28). The development of the key indicator has prompted work in different Member States to improve reporting procedures on drug-related deaths.

Direct comparisons of national statistics should still be made with caution owing to differences in definitions, reporting quality and coverage. However, if consistent recording methods are maintained over time within a country, the number of drug-related deaths can be a useful indicator of trends in severe forms of drug use, especially when analysed together with other indicators.

Drug overdose is an important cause of death among young people, particularly young men, in most EU countries. Deaths from AIDS and other causes (violence, accidents, etc.) account for additional drug-related mortality, with important differences between countries and cities. Generally, these deaths are reported from different data sources.

Drug-related deaths among injectors and opiate users are much higher than in the general population, and problem drug use is a major cause of death among young adults in most EU countries. Studies in the 1990s in some EU cities (Glasgow, Madrid, Rome) found that a significant proportion of deaths among young adults could be attributed to problem drug use (in particular injection of opiates). Although deaths from AIDS are declining, overdose deaths are stable or continuing to increase, and new studies are needed to provide more recent information on drug-related mortality in other cities.


(26Box 8 OL: The methodology and definitions used to estimate drug-related deaths and mortality.

(27Box 9 OL: Definitions of ‘acute drug-related death’ in EU Member States, as used in the EMCDDA annual report and reported in national reports.

(28Box 10 OL: Drug-related deaths – EMCDDA definition. See also the EMCDDA protocol for drug-related death.