Drugs and other chemicals involved in fatal poisoning in England and Wales during 2000-2011

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53 Citations (Scopus)


Context. Fatal poisoning data can reveal trends in the poisons encountered, which can help guide prescribing practices and product safety and other legislation, and more recently has helped to monitor the use of emerging drugs of abuse ('legal highs'). Methods. We searched Mortality Statistics - Injury and poisoning, Series DH4 (2000-2005), Mortality Statistics - Deaths registered in England and Wales, Series DR (2006-2011), and the Office for National Statistics drug poisoning database for information on fatal poisoning during 2000-2011. We also searched the Pubmed database for 'fatal' and 'poisoning' and 'England' and 'Wales' : this search yielded seven papers that gave relevant information on deaths reported during 2000-2011 that were not superseded by later publications. Deaths from poisoning. The annual number of deaths from poisoning fell from 2000 (3092) to 2010 (2749), before increasing to 3341 in 2011. This increase was due in part to a change in the ICD coding relating to alcohol poisoning, suggesting that such deaths had been under-recorded previously. Although fatalities from dextropropoxyphene declined (287 in 2004 and 18 in 2011) following the withdrawal of co-proxamol (paracetamol [acetaminophen] and dextropropoxyphene [propoxyphene] mixture) during 2005-2007, deaths involving codeine and most notably tramadol (836 deaths during 2000-2011) increased. Deaths from paracetamol poisoning either alone, or with alcohol reached 89 in 2011, the lowest annual figure since 1974. However, in reality there has been no marked downward trend since 1999 despite reductions in pack size, continued publicity as to the dangers of paracetamol overdose, and improved liver failure treatment, including transplantation. The annual number of deaths from antidepressants remained relatively stable (median: 397, range: 335-469). Although the number of deaths from dosulepin [dothiepin] decreased (186 in 2000 and 49 in 2011), the number of deaths involving selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors increased (50 in 2000 and 127 in 2011). Although annual numbers of deaths involving diamorphine/morphine (88% unintentional) declined, deaths involving methadone (89% unintentional) increased and the total annual number of deaths from these drugs showed little change (2000: 1061, 2011: 995). Deaths involving amfetamine/metamfetamine remained relatively constant at about 50 annually, and whilst cocaine-related deaths fell by 48% during 2008-2011, and deaths involving MDMA and related compounds fell by 69% over this same period, deaths involving 'legal highs', notably gamma-hydroxybutrate/gamma-butyrolactone and ketamine, increased. Conclusions. Alterations in the availability of paracetamol and of prescription drugs such as dextropropoxyphene and dosulepin have not been accompanied by decreases in the number of deaths from poisoning. Despite intense media and other interest, the annual number of deaths (250-300) involving 'recreational' drugs remains small in relation to the 1000 or so deaths a year from diamorphine and/or methadone.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2014


  • Carbon monoxide
  • Cocaine
  • Codeine
  • Diamorphine [heroin]/morphine
  • Dextropropoxyphene [propoxyphene]
  • Fatal poisoning
  • 'Legal highs'
  • MDMA
  • Methadone
  • Paracetamol [acetaminophen]
  • Tramadol
  • UK


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