England and Wales see sharp rise in drug deaths

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Nearly, 2,000 drug misuse deaths were registered in England and Wales in 2013, according to figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). 

Male drug misuse deaths involving illegal drugs rose by 23 per cent, from 1,177 in 2012 to 1,444, while female deaths were up by 12 per cent to 513. The upward trend is in contrast to Scotland, which saw deaths fall by 9 per cent over the same period (DDN, September, page 4).

Heroin/morphine remained the substances most commonly involved, up 32 per cent to 765 deaths, while 220 deaths involving the synthetic opiate tramadol were also recorded. Overall, nearly 3,000 drug poisoning deaths – including those involving legal drugs – were registered in England and Wales in 2013, more than 2,000 of them among males. In England, the North East was the region with the highest mortality rate from drug misuse, while London was the lowest.

The number of deaths involving new psychoactive substances was up by 15 per cent – from 52 to 60 – although the increase ‘was not as steep as that observed between 2011 and 2012’, says the document. 

DrugScope expressed ‘serious concerns’ over the figures, which marked a ‘reversal of the recent downward trend and appear to show the sharpest increase since the early 1990s’, said chief executive Marcus Roberts. ‘Of course, this is about more than just numbers; each death represents a tragedy for the individual concerned, their family and friends.’

The charity also urged the government to review the timetable for its proposed roll-out of naloxone provision – currently scheduled for October next year at the earliest – so that ‘this life-saving medication can be used as soon as possible, to prevent more people from dying’. Commenting on the release of the Scottish figures last month, community safety minister Roseanna Cunningham pointed out that nearly 4,000 naloxone kits had been issued in Scotland in 2012-13, ‘potentially saving more than 350 lives.’

Deaths related to drug poisoning in England and Wales, 2013 at www.ons.gov.uk