, Volume 34, Issue 8, pp 437-441

Drug abuse-related mortality: a study of teenage addicts over a 20-year period

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Background: There is growing concern about increase in illicit drug use and associated fatalities in young people. Method: This longitudinal analysis of successive cohorts of addicts in England and Wales aged 15–19 years followed up over a 20-year period covering 1974 to 1993 (1) investigated trends in all-causes mortality; (2) examined teenage-specific mortality, i.e. deaths during ages 15–19 years; (3) determined excess teenage-specific mortality; and (4) identified the main underlying causes of teenage-specific death in this population. The main outcome measures were overall mortality rates, teenage-specific mortality and standardised mortality ratios calculated for four 5-year (period) successive cohorts. Results: Overall mortality rate in the study population (N = 9491) was 4.7/1000 person-years. The median age at death was 23 years (semi interquartile range = 3), with the majority (91.3%) of deaths occurring between ages 15 and 29 years. Excess teenage-specific mortality in the population was 10.7 in males and 21.2 in females (general population = 1), and increase in excess mortality in both sexes was evident in the last 5-year period of study. The majority of deaths (64.3%) resulted from accidental poisoning. Methadone and heroine/morphine accounted for about two-thirds of accidental poisoning deaths, while suicide accounted for 11.4% of teenage-specific deaths. Conclusions: It is strongly recommended that treatment services should be more responsive to the need for careful prescribing, dispensing and administration of substitute medication to teenage addicts in their care. The development of needs-led, case-sensitive treatment services for young addicts is indicated.

Accepted: 1 June 1999