Drug-related deaths in England and Wales reach record high, figures show

Andy Wells
Freelance Writer
Drug-related deaths in England and Wales have reached an all-time high (Getty/stock photo)

Official figures have shown that drug-related deaths in England and Wales are at the highest ever level.

There were 4,359 deaths from drug poisoning recorded in England and Wales in 2018 - the highest number since records began in 1993, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

The official body said it was also the highest annual increase since records began, rising 16% (603 deaths) from 2017.

More than half of the deaths involved an opiate (2,208 deaths), while deaths from new psychoactive substances, or legal highs, doubled in a year to 125.

And deaths involving cocaine doubled over the three years to 2018, reaching their highest ever level.

Addiction experts say wider use of cocaine and higher strength have contributed to deaths (Getty/stock photo)

Ian Hamilton, an associate professor of addiction at the University of York, told Yahoo News UK that this could be down to “more wider use of cocaine and because of increasing strength, which is catching naive and experienced users out”.

Professor Hamilton said of the overall figures: “As treatment funding has gone down, deaths have gone up and that seems like more than a coincidence.

“These deaths aren’t spread equally among England and Wales. They seem to be hitting seaside resorts and areas of deprivation like Middlesborough and Blackpool the hardest.”

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The ONS figures cover deaths involving controlled and non-controlled drugs, prescription and over-the-counter medications.

They also include accidents and suicides involving drugs, and complications such as deep vein thrombosis or septicaemia from intravenous drug use.

Almost half of the deaths registered last year will have happened in previous years, due to the time it can take for an inquest to be completed, statisticians believe, adding that many deaths that occurred in 2018 will be missing from these figures.

More than half of the deaths involved an opiate, while deaths from new psychoactive substances, or legal highs, doubled in a year to 125 (Getty/stock photo)

Around two-thirds of drug poisoning deaths were from drug misuse (2,917) - continuing a trend seen over the last decade.

Males accounted for more than two-thirds of drug poisonings (2,984, compared with 1,375 females).

Most of the recorded deaths were due to accidental poisoning (80% of males and 67% of females), and then intentional self-poisoning (16% of males and 30% of females).

The remaining deaths were caused by mental and behavioural disorders as a result of drug use or assault involving drugs.

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