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4809.0.55.001 - Information Paper: Drug-induced Deaths - A Guide to ABS Causes of Death Data, 2002  
Latest ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 08/08/2002   
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The main source of statistics on the number of deaths in Australia resulting from drug use is the Causes of Death collection maintained by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). The ABS compiles these statistics from information provided by the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages in each State and Territory.

This Information Paper outlines classification issues associated with the compilation and dissemination of causes of death data relating to drug use. It may be used in conjunction with the companion data file Drug-induced Deaths, Australia, 1997-2000 (cat. no. 3303.0).

The topics covered in this paper include:

  • Registration and coding of deaths in Australia
  • ABS definition of drug-induced deaths
  • Relevant ICD Classifications used to code these data
  • An explanation of the concepts of underlying causes of death and multiple causes of death
  • Issues affecting classification of data
  • Issues affecting data availability

Prior to 1997, the ABS produced causes of death statistics for the underlying cause of death which is defined as the 'disease or injury which initiated the train of events leading directly to death'. Commencing with deaths registered in 1997, the ABS classifies not only the underlying cause of death but also records information on any associated or contributory conditions mentioned on the death certificate. This additional information known as 'multiple causes' enables more detailed analysis of mortality patterns. It is particularly useful for analysis of deaths involving drugs, as a broader range of drugs which may have contributed to death can now be identified.


The number of registered deaths directly caused by drug use declined in 2000. The steadily increasing trend recorded for drug-induced deaths since 1997 peaked in 1999 at 1,739, before falling by 10% in 2000 to a total of 1,569 deaths. Accidental overdoses continue to be the leading cause of drug-induced deaths, accounting for 80% of the total number of drug-induced deaths registered in 2000.

Drug-induced Deaths, Australia, 1997-2000

Underlying cause/circumstance of death
Year of registration

Number of deaths

Drug-induced deaths
Accidental (F11-F16, F19, F55, X40-X44)(a)
Intentional self-harm (X60-X64)
Assault (X85)
Undetermined intent (Y10-Y14)

(a) Includes two components: mental and behavioural disorders due to drug use (F11-F16, F19, F55) and accidental poisoning by drugs (X40-X44).
Source: Causes of Death Collection.

Males continue to account for nearly 70% of the total number of drug-induced deaths registered each year since 1997. The overall decrease in the number of drug-induced deaths recorded in 2000 was driven by a significant decline in the number of male deaths (13%).

Drug-induced Deaths by Sex, Australia, 1997-2000
Graph - Drug-induced Deaths by Sex, Australia, 1997-2000
Source: Causes of Death Collection.

Further information is available in the datacube Drug-induced Deaths, Australia, 1997-2000 (cat. no. 3303.0). This data file provides detailed information including age, sex and State of usual residence of the deceased person.

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