Aims: To assess geographical variations in mortality and the relationship of socio-economic correlates to deaths from volatile substance abuse (VSA) in Great Britain.
Design: Analysis of the National Register of deaths from VSA by linking the addresses (postcode) of the deceased to census enumeration districts and hence wards and counties.
Setting and participants: All 775 deaths in Great Britain listed in the national register between 1985-91. Population counts from the 1991 census were used as denominators.
Measurement: The Poisson heterogeneity test was used to test the null hypothesis that all standardized mortality ratios were from the same population. The t-test was used to compare differences in Townsend Deprivation scores between wards with and without VSA deaths. Multiple regression was used to assess the relationship between indices of deprivation and deaths from VSA.
Findings: One-third of all VSA deaths occurred in six regions of Great Britain which accounted for 17% of the at risk population. There was considerable variation in age standardized mortality ratios (ASMR) across regions. A ward level analysis indicated that wards with a VSA death had significantly higher levels of deprivation. The Townsend deprivation index showed mean deprivation scores of 2.8 and 0.2, respectively, for wards with and without a registered death (p < 0.0001). Multiple regression at county/region level found that 45% of the variation in ASMR was explained by the components of the Townsend deprivation index.
Conclusions: Factors associated with deprivation are important in VSA deaths and this should be taken into account in planning public health measures to prevent mortality.