Drug poisoning deaths in England and Wales reach record high


Drug deaths are at their highest level in more than a quarter of a century (Picture: Getty)

A record number of people have died from drug poisoning in England and Wales, worrying new figures show.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said there were 4,561 drug-related deaths in 2020 .

This is a rise of 3.8% compared to 2019 and the highest number since records began in 1993.

Two thirds of the deaths were related to drug misuse, and around half involved an opiate.

Some 777 deaths involved cocaine – a 9.7% rise from 2019 and more than five times higher than the 144 cocaine-related deaths registered in 2010.

Dr Emily Finch, vice-chair of the addictions faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, called the deaths ‘tragic and wholly avoidable’.

She said: ‘Years of cuts have left addictions services ill-equipped to treat people and prevent these deaths from rising.

‘The government needs to wake up to the fact that cuts to services, disconnecting NHS mental health services from addiction services and shifting the focus away from harm reduction to abstinence-based recovery is destroying lives and fuelling the increase in drug-related deaths’.

She said ministers now have a ‘once-in-a-generation opportunity’ to tackle rising drug-related deaths by acting on the recommendations made in Dame Carol Black’s landmark report on addiction services.

The report said cuts have left services ‘on their knees’ and urged an extra £552m investment over five years in England.

Change Grow Live, a national charity providing treatment services for people using drugs, said the recommendations – which included a £15m boost to job support for those in treatment – should be implemented ‘in their entirety’.

Chief Executive Mark Moody said: ‘For things to improve, we must directly challenge the stigma faced by people who use drugs. This starts by recognising that drug dependency is a chronic health condition which must be integrated alongside NHS services, criminal justice pathways and housing support.

‘No single organisation has the solution to drug-related deaths, and a national Drug Strategy must be led by the voices of the people who are most affected. We hope to work together with Government and other partners to share our expertise, insights, and evidence.’

This year is the eight in a row drug-related deaths have increased in England and Wales.

Drug deaths in Scotland have also reached a new high.

More than 1,300 people died of drug misuse in Scotland last year, with the country seeing a record number of deaths for the seventh year in a row.

It means Scotland continues to have by far the highest drug death rate recorded by any country in Europe.

This is a breaking news story, more to follow soon… Check back shortly for further updates.

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