From Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine
Doubling of deaths from alcoholic liver disease - drug abuse during 1970s and 1980s may explain why
Middle-aged men could be at increased risk of death from liver disease due to drug use Middle-aged men could be at increased risk of death from liver disease, as a result of illicit intravenous drug use during the 1970s and 1980s, according to a study published today.
Researchers from Imperial College London studied the numbers of deaths in England from alcohol related illness between 1993 and 1999 recorded by the Office of National Statistics. They discovered that deaths from alcohol-related illness rose by 59 per cent for men, and 40 per cent for women, while deaths from unspecified alcohol liver damage rose by 259 per cent in men aged between 40 and 59 years old. A rise of this size did not occur in women of any age or younger men.
Professor John Henry, from Imperial College, and based at St Mary's Hospital, says: "Although there has been this huge rise in the numbers of deaths from alcoholic liver damage in men, there has not been a similar rise in the amount of alcohol consumed."
"At the same time, there has been a marked increase in the number of hepatitis C cases, with up to 300,000 infected in Britain. In hepatitis C sufferers alcohol consumption has been shown to cause accelerated liver damage, a higher frequency of cirrhosis, and a higher incidence of hepatocellular carcinoma, eventually leading to death."
The researchers looked at data from the Public Health Laboratory Service which suggested that 80 per cent of hepatitis C transmission is associated with intravenous drug use.
Although circumstantial, the researchers believe there is a link between this rise in the number of hepatitis C cases, and illicit intravenous drug use during the 1970s and 1980s, when hepatitis C may have been picked up through the use of infected needles.
Professor Henry adds: "Although we have no evidence that men currently aged between 40 and 59 years have a higher lifetime history of illicit drug use than younger or older groups, these are people who would have been involved in the heroin epidemic of 1970s and 1980s. Significantly, this was before the introduction of needle exchange and other interventions instigated in the late 1980s to reduce the risk of HIV transmission in drug users."