Quality of heroin and heroin-related deaths
from 1987 to 1995 in Vienna, Austria

Risser D, Uhl A, Stichenwirth M, Honigschnabl S, Hirz W,
Schneider B, Stellwag-Carion C, Klupp N, Vycudilik W, Bauer G
Institute of Forensic Medicine,
University of Vienna,
Austria. daniele.risser@univie.ac.at
Addiction 2000 Mar; 95(3): 375-82


AIMS: To investigate the quality of heroin seized in Vienna between 1987 and 1995 and to examine whether there was a relationship between the quality of heroin and the rate of drug-related deaths. DESIGN: Reports of heroin seizure analysis and post-mortem reports of heroin-related deaths in Vienna from 1987 to 1995 were analysed. RESULTS: There were 386 seizures of heroin comprising a total weight of 25 640.12 g heroin. All the seizures were in the base form. All seizures also contained a diluent, mainly lactose. Additionally, in 95 seizures caffeine, in four seizures paracetamol and in three seizures metaqualon were detected. Of a total of 764 drug-related deaths 506 cases were classified as heroin-related deaths. In 336 cases other central nervous system-depressant drugs and/or alcohol could be detected in the blood in addition to morphine (polydrug heroin-related deaths). There was evidence of a trend towards greater polydrug involvement during the study period. The age of victims of polydrug heroin-related deaths remained unchanged over time while the age of victims of pure heroin-related deaths decreased significantly. The morphine concentration in the medulla oblongata in heroin-related deaths decreased significantly. Finally, there was no statistically significant relationship between the rate of heroin-related deaths per year and the diacetylmorphine concentration of heroin seizures in that year. CONCLUSION: The results did not substantiate the widely held belief that increases in heroin-related deaths could be explained by an increase in the quality of heroin.
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