BackgroundThe number of heroin addicts has increased significantly over the last 10 years, and accordingly the number of people dying from heroin overdoses has increased. The health condition among the heroin using population is reported to be very poor. In order to evaluate whether poor health could be a contributing factor in fatal heroin overdoses we have examined reports from medicolegal autopsies concerning such deaths.
Material and methodsThe data collected was based on 214 autopsy records from 2003-2004, where heroin/morphine was given as the major cause of death. The autopsies were preformed at the Institute of Forensic Medicine, University of Oslo. Age, gender, cause of death, organ pathology and other somatic diseases were registered.
ResultsAverage age for both men and women were 36 years. In a high percentage of the deaths other drugs and narcotics, especially benzodiazepines was detected in addition to heroin metabolites. In only 10 % of the cases somatic disease was concluded as a contributing factor to death; pneumonia and heart disease the most common. Liver pathology was found in 60% of the cases. No difference was seen between men and women. Splenomegaly was commonly seen in both genders. An overview of their social situation prior to death was difficult establish because of shortage of data on this subject.
InterpretationThe average age for people dying from heroin overdoses has increased. Drugs and other narcotics and their importance as a contributing factor causing death is often uncertain. Besides of liver pathology, splenomegaly, pneumonia and heart disease no big organ pathology was found. Those found with heart pathology belonged in general to the older part of the population. More information is needed to get a picture of their social situation.