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Drug Related Deaths Database

Drugs and Alcohol Misuse

NHS National Services Scotland ISD Scotland & NHS National Services Scotland

National Drug-Related Deaths Database

About the Database

The National Drug-Related Deaths Database (NDRDD) was established by the National Forum on Drug-Related Deaths (NFDRD) to collect detailed information regarding the nature, health and social circumstances of individuals who have died a drug-related death. Since 2016, oversight of data collection and reporting has been provided by the Partnership for Action on Drugs in Scotland (PADS) Harms Group.

The database complements the routine reporting of drug-related deaths in Scotland by the National Records of Scotland (NRS). The NRS and NDRDD operate separately, however since both sets of data concern drug-related deaths in Scotland they can be used to draw comparisons. The NDRDD has sought to give background information on the increasing numbers of drug-related deaths in Scotland and holds a variety of information on individuals who have had a drug-related death.

The dataset includes:

  • socio-demographic information;
  • known substance use details;
  • previous overdoses;
  • details of medical and psychiatric conditions;
  • details of the death;
  • previous contact with services;
  • toxicology and substitute prescribing

Information from ISD's general acute inpatient and day case admissions (SMR01), psychiatric inpatient admissions (SMR04) and Prescribing Information System (PIS) datasets are now also routinely linked to the NDRDD cohort. These analyses provide measures of hospital admission, description of stays in relation to specific conditions, and recent prescribing of controlled medications. All relevant permissions for use and reporting of data were obtained in accordance with ISD's Information Governance processes.

The aims of the database are to:

  • monitor the number of drug related deaths in Scotland;
  • help identify or confirm trends;
  • inform discussion about service provision;
  • provide data for the Alcohol and Drug Partnerships (ADPs) and the Scottish Government in taking forward the Drugs Misuse strategy and preventing future drug-related deaths;
  • identify patterns which can aid in the identification of individuals who may be particularly vulnerable to drug-related death which can lead to the implementation of prevention measures.

Definition of a Drug Related Death

The 'baseline' definition for the NDRDD is derived from the UK Drugs Strategy and covers the following cause of death categories (ICD10 codes are given in brackets):

   a) Deaths where the underlying cause of death has been coded to the following sub-categories of 'mental and behavioural disorders due to psychoactive substance use':

  1. opioids (F11);
  2. cannabinoids (F12);
  3. sedatives or hypnotics (F13);
  4. cocaine (F14);
  5. other stimulants, including caffeine (F15);
  6. hallucinogens (F16);
  7. multiple drug use and use of other psychoactive substances (F19).

   b) Deaths coded to the following categories and where a drug listed under the Misuse of Drugs Act (1971) was known to be present in the body at the time of death:

  1. accidental poisoning (X40 - X44);
  2. intentional self-poisoning by drugs, medicaments and biological substances (X60 - X64);
  3. assault by drugs, medicaments and biological substances (X85);
  4. event of undetermined intent, poisoning (Y10 - Y14).

Prior to 2012, deaths covered by point b (ii) were included in the NRS data; however they were not included in the deaths recorded in the NDRDD. The NDRDD report for deaths occurring in 2012 was the first report that included deaths under this category.

A number of categories that may be regarded as ‘drug-related’ deaths are excluded from the definition because the underlying cause of death was not coded to one of the ICD10 codes listed above. Examples of deaths which are not counted for this reason are:

  • deaths coded to mental and behavioural disorders due to the use of alcohol (F10), tobacco (F17) and volatile substances (F18);
  • deaths from AIDS where the risk factor was believed to be the sharing of needles;
  • deaths from drowning, falls, road traffic and other accidents (except the inhalation of gastric contents, or choking on food) which occurred under the influence of drugs;
  • deaths due to assault by a person who was under the influence of drugs, or as a result of being involved in drug-related criminal activities;
  • deaths due to infections from contaminated drugs, such as Clostridium noyvi or anthrax.

Data Collection and Submission

In the event of an unexpected death, the police complete a Sudden Death Report which is passed to the Procurator Fiscal. The Procurator Fiscal then calls for a full pathological and toxicological post mortem examination to be conducted to determine the cause of death. On completion of the post mortem examination, the Local Critical Incident Monitoring Group and Data Collection Co-ordinator decide if the case matches the inclusion criteria for the NDRDD (i.e. if it is a drug-related death as per the NDRDD definition). If these criteria are met, a case record is submitted to ISD. For deaths up to and including 2013, data were sent to ISD and entered into a secure database by the ISD Data Management team. Since 2014, death data have been entered directly into a secure database by data co-ordinators in each respective health board area. This database is managed centrally within ISD Data Management. Any queries relating to the database or data information contained should be forwarded to


General enquiries:

Graeme Reid
Database Manager
Graeme manages the Drug-related Deaths database and database team, ensuring quality and timeliness of data, and leads the development, co-ordination and delivery of training.
Tel: 0141 282 2257

For queries relating to analysis, reporting or publications:
Ruth Gordon
Senior Information Analyst
Health & Social Care Team
Telephone: 0131 275 6335

Health & Social Care Team (Drugs & Alcohol)
ISD Scotland
NHS National Services Scotland
Area 114C
Gyle Square
1 South Gyle Crescent
EH12 9EB

© ISD Scotland 2010
Information Services Division,
NHS National Services Scotland,
Gyle Square,
1 South Gyle Crescent,
Edinburgh EH12 9EB,
Tel: 0131 275 7050  
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