The latest report on deaths by drug poisoning was released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) earlier this month, with barely a peep from the media. Surprising, considering there has been a considerable leap in the number of people who have died compared to the last couple of years. Looking at the statistics in more detail uncovers some confusing and syllogistic attempts at explanations.
There are a considerable number of issues with this report and its conclusions, but I will limit my thoughts to the heroin/morphine figures specifically, as these seem to be the most shocking; a staggering 32% more people died compared to the previous year. Why such an increase? The ONS suggests that the increase in heroin related deaths may be as a result of a 5 -10% increase in purity of street heroin, they state:
‘This increase in street purity after a time of lower purity may partly or wholly explain the increase in heroin related deaths in 2013, as users may have had reduced tolerance to the drug.’ (para 2, p23/42)
There are two fundamental problems with this statement. The purity data is inaccurately referenced, and also, the conclusion that an increase in purity has caused this is simply untrue. Why is a purity increase of 5% not related to deaths? Firstly, there just is not enough of a consistent relationship between purity and overdose in fatal toxicological reports. Deaths occur most commonly in people in their 30s, who are dependent, tolerant, long-term injecting users, and so purity variations would not greatly impact this group of people.
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