Deaths Among People Who Were Homeless When They Died

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A total of 121 people who were homeless died in 2020 – equivalent to 10 deaths per month, and an increase on the 2019 figure of 92, according to data published this year by The Health Research Board.

The analysis shows that those who died while homeless were much younger than the Irish average at the time of their death, with a median age of 36.5 for women and 42 for men. Almost all who died had a history of substance use or dependency, and there was a high prevalence of mental health and medical conditions.

Almost all (91%) of people who where homeless when they died in 2020 had a history of substance use, with high levels of polydrug use.

Heroin (61%) was the most common drug used by those with a history of drug use, followed by cocaine (56%), and benzodiazepines (36%). Of those that had used substances, over 4 in 10 were alcohol dependent.

There was a high proportion of people who injected drugs, especially among men, and a high prevalence of Hepatitis C (over 1 in 10 men, and almost 2 in 10 women).

Almost half of those who died had accessed substance use treatment. 1 in 5 were receiving treatment for problem opioid use, mainly methadone treatment, at the time of death (35% of females and 17% of males).

Cause of death

Poisoning was the cause of nearly 6 in 10 deaths. The most common drugs implicated in poisoning deaths were opioids (mainly heroin and methadone), followed by benzodiazepines and cocaine.  

Just over half of those whose death involved opioids had previously received substance use treatment, and almost 2 in 5 were in treatment at the time of their death. More than 2 in 3 deaths involving opioids occurred in accommodation for persons who are homeless, while 1 in 3 of the deceased were with other people at the time of their death.

There were 52 non-poisoning deaths recorded among people who were homeless, with the majority (85%) among males. 1 in 4 non-poisoning deaths were due to hanging, with most of those who died by hanging having a history of mental health issues and/or drug use. Deaths due to cardiovascular conditions accounted for 1 in 4 non-poisoning deaths, with the majority occurring among males.

There were 11 (9%) deaths among people who were homeless and who had no recorded history of drug or alcohol use. These were mostly males, and half had traumatic deaths due to hanging or drowning. Over half of the deceased had a known history of mental health issues.