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Keywords:

  • Drug misuse;
  • fatal overdose;
  • mental health;
  • service use

ABSTRACT

Aim  To explore the recent contact with health and social services by drug misusers who died of a fatal overdose and identify opportunities for preventive intervention.

Design  Retrospective case analysis.

Subjects  Eighty-seven residents of the Greater Glasgow area who died of a drug misuse-related overdose in 1999.

Methods  Analysis of matched data from several sources: Strathclyde Police; University of Glasgow Department of Forensic Medicine and Science; the Scottish Prison Service; general practitioners’ medical notes, including records of accident and emergency attendances and psychiatric assessments; and five specialist agencies for drug misusers or the homeless.

Findings  Most of those who died of an overdose were males, long-standing heroin injectors and resident in a deprived area. Heroin caused most deaths, either alone or with other drugs. Twenty-three per cent died within 2 weeks of release from prison. For the 77 whose medical records were available, 90% had seen their general practitioner (32% in the month before death), 48% had attended accident and emergency services and 22% had received a psychiatric assessment in the year before death. Over 40% of the 87 used a drug agency in the year before death and 20% had used more than one agency.

Conclusions  Previous suicidal ideation, attempted suicide and depression were common among those who died of an overdose, as was recent release from prison. Almost all had been in contact with and several were receiving specific treatment from health or specialist addiction services in their last weeks or months. The findings highlight both the numerous opportunities for intervention and the challenge of using them to prevent death.