Opioid deaths have increased in England and Wales. Coroners’ Prevention of Future Deaths reports (PFDs) provide important insights that may enable safer use and avert harms, yet reports implicating opioids have not been synthesized. We aimed to identify opioid-related PFDs and explore coroners’ concerns to prevent future deaths.
In this systematic case series, we screened 3897 coronial PFDs dated between 01 July 2013 and 23 February 2022, obtained by web scraping the UK’s Courts and Tribunals Judiciary website. PFDs were included when an opioid was implicated in the death. Included PFDs were descriptively analysed, and content analysis was used to assess concerns reported by coroners.
Opioids were involved in 219 deaths reported in PFDs (5·6% of PFDs), equating to 4418 years of life lost (median 33 years/person). Morphine (29%), methadone (23%) and diamorphine (16%) were the most common implicated opioids. Coroners most frequently raised concerns regarding systems and protocols (52%) or safety issues (15%). These concerns were most often addressed to National Health Service (NHS) organizations (51%), but response rates were low overall (47%).
Opioids could be used more safely if coroners’ concerns in PFDs were addressed by national organizations such as NHS bodies, government agencies and policymakers, as well as individual prescribing clinicians.