The information requested falls within the responsibility of the UK Statistics Authority. I have asked the authority to reply.
Letter from Glen Watson, dated May 2013
As Director General for the Office for National Statistics, I have been asked to reply to your recent question asking how many deaths in the UK were attributed to legal highs in each of the last five years. (155656)
There is no official definition of the term 'legal high'. However the Office for National Statistics does monitor deaths from drug-related poisoning, allowing analysis of deaths by specific substances involved.
In recent years a number of novel psychoactive substances have been controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. These include gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) and its precursor gamma-butyrolactone (GBL), piperazines (benzylpiperazine - BZP and trifluoromethylphenylpiperazine–TFMPP), pipradrols such as desoxypipradrol, and cathinones such as mephedrone. Cathinone is one of the active ingredients in herbal Khat (Catha edulis), although Khat is not controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act. All of these substances have been mentioned in association with the term 'legal high', although it should be noted that once a substance is added to the list of substances controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, it is no longer 'legal'.
The following table provides the number of drug-related deaths mentioning these substances for the UK, in each registration year from 2007 to 2011 (the latest year available). It is important to note that around 60% of these deaths mentioned more than one substance on the death certificate, and it is not possible to tell which was primarily responsible for the death. More information on how to interpret data on drug-related deaths can be found in the bulletins mentioned.
The number of drug-related deaths in Scotland is available on the National Records of Scotland website:
The number of drug-related deaths in Northern Ireland is available on the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency website:
|Table 1. Number of deaths related to drug poisoning where GHB/GBL, BZP/TFMPP, a cathinone (including khat) or desoxypipradrol was mentioned on the death certificate, UK, deaths registered between 2007 and 2011(1,2,3,4)|
|(1) Cause of death related to drug poisoning was defined using the International Classification of Diseases, Tenth Revision (ICD 10) codes shown in Box 1. (2) Deaths were included where the underlying cause was drug-related, and where one or more of the following substances was mentioned on the death certificate: GHB/GBL, BZP/TFMPP, a cathinone (eg mephedrone), khat or desoxypipradrol. (3) Figures include deaths of non-residents. (4) Figures are based on deaths registered, rather than deaths occurring in years 2007 to 2011. Due to the length of time it takes to hold an inquest, it can take months for a drug-related death to be registered in England and Wales and Northern Ireland. Registration delays do not exist in Scotland. Additional information on registration delays for drug-related deaths can be found in the annual statistical bulletin: www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/subnational-health3/deaths-related-to-drug-poisoning/index.html|
|Box 1. ICD-10 codes used to define deaths related to drug poisoning|
|Description||ICD 10 Codes|
|Mental and behavioural disorders due to drug use (excluding alcohol and tobacco)||F11-F16, F18-F19|
|Accidental poisoning by drugs, medicaments and biological substances||X40-X44|
|Intentional self-poisoning by drugs, medicaments and biological substances||X60-X64|
|Assault by drugs, medicaments and biological substances||X85|
|Poisoning by drugs, medicaments and biological substances, undetermined intent||Y10-Y14|