Open Access Research article

Number of addictive substances used related to increased risk of unnatural death: A combined medico-legal and case-record study

Louise Brådvik1, Mats Berglund2*, Arne Frank2, Anna Lindgren3 and Peter Löwenhielm4

Author Affiliations

1 Clinical Sciences, Lund, Sweden

2 Clinical Alcohol Research, Malmö, Sweden

3 Centre for Mathematical Sciences, Lund, Sweden

4 Forensic Medicine, Lund, Sweden

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BMC Psychiatry 2009, 9:48  doi:10.1186/1471-244X-9-48

Published: 4 August 2009



Substance use disorders have repeatedly been found to lead to premature death, i.e. drug-related death by disease, fatal intoxications, or trauma (accidents, suicide, undetermined suicide, and homicide). The present study examined the relationship between multi-drug substance use and natural and unnatural death.


All consecutive, autopsied patients who had been in contact with the Addiction Centre in Malmö University Hospital from 1993 to 1997 inclusive were investigated. Drug abuse was investigated blindly in the case records and related to the cause of death in 387 subjects.


Every substance apart from alcohol used previously in life added to the risk of unnatural death in a linear way. There were independent increased risks of fatal heroin overdoses or undetermined suicide. Death by suicide and violent death were unrelated to additional abuse.


The number of drugs used was related to an increased risk of unnatural death by undetermined suicide (mainly fatal intoxications) and heroin overdose.