The number of deaths resulting from drug overdoses in Estonia rose sharply last year, to 79, double the figure for 2021 (39), itself up from the 31 deaths reported in in 2020, state agency the National Institute for Health Development (TAI) says.
Of the 79 drug-related deaths, 38 percent involved synthetic opioids, and 29 percent were the result of amphetamine abuse. Cocaine overdoses caused a further 15 percent of the fatalities, the TAI says.
Most overdose deaths were caused by a combination of several different narcotic and psychotropic substances. In addition to "street drugs", various antidepressants and benzodiazepines and other legal medicines have been identified in post-mortem toxicology reports, the TAI reports.
The average age of the deceased was 38, while ages ranged from 17 to 68. Sixty-two of the dead were men; 17 were women.
The TAI also identified as a concern the fact that eight overdose deaths had occurred in the 17-20 age range as of the start of December last year, with Methylphenidate identified in four of these cases. Methylphenidate is a central nervous system stimulant with a similar, albeit milder, effect as engendered by cocaine use. It also sees legal use in medicines.
Another serious development was the presence of Xylazine in two of the victims. Xylazine is a muscle relaxant and pain reliever administered by veterinarians, to animals.
The TAI stated in a press release that: "This news is alarming, as it indicates that the practice seen in other parts of the world, whereby xylazine is combined in order to enhance and prolong the effects of fentanyls or nitazenes, has also now reached Estonia."
"According to experts in the U.S., xylazine is added to opioids with a fast half-life, such as fentanyls and nitazenes, in order to make the interaction of the substances replicate more the longer-lasting effects of heroin," the press release went on.
Unfortunately, the unwanted consequences of using opioids mixed with xylazine are extremely damaging, the TAI notes.
Regular use leads to, among other things, painful sores , loss of consciousness which the antidote usually used in this case, naloxone, has no effect on, plus withdrawal symptoms, also not alleviated by drugs used to treat opioid addiction - such as methadone or buprenorphine, the TAI warned.
Last year, reported naloxone use among drug addicts in Estonia was found in 454 cases, almost a threefold rise on year, which the TAI says also reflects the gravity of the situation.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mirjam Mäekivi