Drug poisoning deaths hit highest level ever

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Last year saw England and Wales register the highest number of drug poisoning deaths since records began more than two decades ago, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

There were 3,346 drug-poisoning deaths registered in 2014, almost 70 per cent of which involved illegal drugs. The figures came just over a week after Scotland also recorded its highest ever number of drug-related deaths for the same period (DDN, September, page 4).

Deaths involving heroin and morphine increased sharply between 2012 and 2014 – from 579 to 952 – while deaths involving cocaine also jumped dramatically, from 169 to 247 in the space of a year. Cocaine-related deaths have now increased for three years in a row, reaching an all-time high of 4.4 per million population. However, while England saw a 17 per cent increase in its drug misuse mortality rate – to 39.7 per million population – Wales saw its proportion drop by 16 per cent to 39.0 per million, the lowest figure for almost a decade.

In England, the north east had the highest mortality rate and London the lowest. As was the case in Scotland, most deaths occurred among older people, with the highest mortality rate in the 40-49 age group, followed by those aged 30-39.

Treatment charity Addaction said the stark figures meant the government now needed to rethink its proposed cuts in local authority health spending (DDN, September, page 4). ‘Drug treatment services across the country have seen an increase in the number of people seeking help for opiates and/or crack cocaine, and this is only likely to increase further as the effect of increased opiate availability and purity is felt,’ said chief executive Simon Antrobus. ‘Meanwhile, the Department of Health are proposing a £200m reduction to the public health grant, which will hit the capacity of drug services commissioned by local authorities.’

The government needed to ensure local authority health spending was given the same amount of protection as that promised to NHS-commissioned services, he stated. ‘The stakes are simply too high to do otherwise.’

Deaths related to drug poisoning in England and Wales, 2014 registrations at www.ons.gov.uk