Society 02/09/2021

Four people die every week from overdose in Catalonia, and drug injection is not the common cause

Eight out of ten of the deceased are men and the majority are between 40 and 49 years old

2 min
A bag of cocaine in a file image.

BarcelonaIn Catalonia 226 people died in 2019 from overdoses, that is, one every two days, or four a week. This is 10% more deaths than the previous year and the highest number since records have been kept: in 2017, 200 died and in 2018, 205. And despite the fact that in the collective imagination overdose is related to injected heroin, more than 80% of deaths from this cause had no sign of injection, but had combined several drugs.

This is one of the main conclusions of the report released on Tuesday by the Department of Health on the occasion of International Overdose Awareness Day and that highlights the existence of a poly-drug use pattern with a combination of alcohol and hypnosedatives, although cocaine and opiates are also quite present. Thus, there is a higher prevalence of cocaine among men and of drugs (hypnosedatives) and alcohol among women. These significant differences between genders mean that prevention efforts must be approached in a differentiated manner. Eight out of ten overdose deaths in 2019 were men.

According to the study, the age of the people who died from acute drug reactions in 2019 ranged from 30 to 59 years, although the majority were between 40 and 49 years of age. The data confirms the trend that has already been seen in recent years, in which people at risk of overdose are increasingly older, use several substances at the same time and mostly do so at home.

They are "preventable deaths"

For Health, these are "avoidable deaths", and that is why prevention strategies have been designed. "They are not sudden deaths and there is room for intervention", the report says. For example, if the addicted person lives with other people, you have to incorporate their environment to preventive strategies, and if the person lives alone, you have to inform them of the high risk involved - if she or he has an overdose, no one can act to reverse it or to alert emergency services. According to the study, 8.4% of overdose deaths had evidence of suicide.

The International Day, in fact, is an opportunity to raise awareness of the risks of combining substances such as alcohol and other drugs and the possibility of overdose. To avoid death it is important to know the risks, the symptoms (unconsciousness, respiratory failure, whitish skin coloration...) and how to act appropriately (put the person in lateral position). In this sense, since 2009 Catalonia has implemented the overdose prevention program, which recognises the effectiveness of training programs in the use of naloxone as a key strategy to reduce opioid overdose deaths, along with supervised drug consumption rooms.

Currently in Catalonia there are 14 supervised consumption rooms that in 2020 2,794 people attended, who took 123,552 consumptions. Of the 141 overdoses that occurred last year in these spaces, all were treated favourably, which indicates that death by overdose is preventable if acted upon in time.