• Question: How many people die every year from illegal drugs?

    Asked by callummunns to Jack, Tom on 21 Mar 2013.
    • Photo: Tom Branson

      Tom Branson answered on 21 Mar 2013:

      There are varying reports on this, but it is around 2,500 in the UK each year from illegal drugs. Most of these are from heroin.

      But compare this to deaths from tobacco… 110,000 die each year in the UK alone from diseases caused by smoking (including lung cancer). So imagine how many more people die all over the world!

      And from alcohol (including liver disease) there are another 20,000 deaths.

      So illegal drugs don’t really contribute to killing many people. They do however cost the NHS a lot of money from trying to get people off the drugs and helping the people when they overdose. But again this cost is tiny compared to the cost caused by tobacco and alcohol. So why is smoking and drinking not illegal? These drugs have been around so long that they are part of our culture but maybe in the future they will be made illegal to help peoples health and stop all the deaths.

    • Photo: Jack Heal

      Jack Heal answered on 22 Mar 2013:

      Tom’s right, and the point about alcohol and smoking causing more deaths per year is a really important one.

      The reason that you get varying reports on the numbers of deaths due to illegal drug use is that it’s really difficult to “draw a line” and decide which deaths are due to drug use and which aren’t.

      When it comes to death from illegal drugs, people can die directly (e.g. they take ecstasy and get a heart attack) or indirectly (they take ecstasy in a club and dance all night without drinking anything and die from overheating. This happens). They may get HIV because of using dirty needles and die from that later on. They may take two drugs (or more!) at once which wouldn’t have killed them on their own but together they caused a death. People die because the drug they’re taking is contaminated with something toxic. They may get killed by a drug dealer – is this a death because of an illegal drug? It kind of is, and it kind of isn’t. This means that it’s very tricky to pin down numbers.

      Although there is this uncertainty when it comes to things like this, the numbers Tom said tell you what’s going on.
      There are lots of deaths per year due to illegal drugs, but they are outweighed a lot by deaths due to alcohol and smoking!