A record-linkage study of drug-related death and suicide after hospital discharge among drug-treatment clients in Scotland, 1996–2006


Correspondence to: Elizabeth L. C. Merrall, MRC Biostatistics Unit, Robinson Way, Cambridge CB2 0SR, UK. E-mail: Elizabeth.merrall@mrc-bsu.cam.ac.uk



To investigate the relationship between time after hospital discharge and drug-related death (DRD) and suicide among drug users in Scotland, while controlling for potential confounders.


Cohort study.

Setting and participants

The 69 457 individuals who registered for drug treatment in Scotland during 1 April 1996–31 March 2006.


Time-at-risk was from the date of an individual's first attendance at drug treatment services after 1 April 1996 until the earlier date of death or end-of-study, 31 March 2006, and was categorized according to time since the most recent hospitalization, as during hospitalization, within 28 days, 29–90 days, 91 days to 1 year and >1 year since discharge from most recent hospital stay versus ‘never admitted’ (reference).


Time-periods soon after discharge were associated with increased risk of DRD. DRD rates per 1000 person-years were: 87 (95% CI: 72–103) during hospitalization, 21 (18–25) within 28 days, 12 (10–15) during 29–90 days and 8.5 (7.5–9.5) during 91 days to 1 year after discharge versus 4.2 (3.7–4.7) when >1 year after most recent hospitalization and 1.9 (1.7–2.1) for those never admitted. Adjusted hazard ratios by time since hospital discharge (versus never admitted) were: 9.6 (95% CI: 8–12) within 28 days, 5.6 (4.6–6.8) during days 29–90, thereafter 4.0 (3.5–4.7) and 2.3 (2.0–2.7) when >1 year. Non-drug-related suicides were less frequent than DRDs (269 versus 1383) but a similar risk pattern was observed.


In people receiving treatment for drug dependence, discharge from a period of hospitalization marks the start of a period of heightened vulnerability to drug-related death.