Drug fatalities soar by 41% in five years, official figures show

Cocaine deaths hit all-time high with eight Britons a week being killed as ‘hypocritical’ middle-class users are hit by soaring strength of the drug

  • Some 3,756 deaths involving legal and illegal substances occurred last year 
  • This is the most since records began in 1993, in the wake of acid house music
  • Deaths from painkiller fentanyl have soared by almost a third, figures reveal
  • Drug policy campaigners criticised the ‘savage’ funding cuts in recent years 

Drug deaths in England and Wales have jumped by nearly half in just five years, official figures reveal.

Some 3,756 fatalities involving legal and illegal substances occurred last year – the most since records began in 1993, in the wake of the acid house scene.

This equates to 66.1 deaths per one million people, 41 per cent higher than 2012’s rate of 46.6.   

Officials have repeatedly warned use of the powerful painkiller fentanyl is soaring because it is readily available on the dark web and is cheap. It is also often cut with heroin, leading to accidental overdoses in some addicts.

Cocaine deaths have also hit record highs as low prices is believed to be behind increasing numbers of users. Users of the recreational drug have also warned it is easier to get than takeaway pizza.

Drug policy campaigners claim ‘savage’ funding cuts in treatment are to blame for the sharp increase in overall deaths revealed in the latest batch of data released by the Office for National Statistics. 

Cocaine deaths have also hit record highs as low prices is believed to be behind increasing numbers of users

Cocaine deaths have also hit record highs as low prices is believed to be behind increasing numbers of users

Some 3,756 deaths involving legal and illegal substances occurred last year - the most since comparable records began in 1993. This equates to 66.1 deaths per one million people, 41 per cent higher than 2012's rate of 46.6, statistics showed today

Some 3,756 deaths involving legal and illegal substances occurred last year – the most since comparable records began in 1993. This equates to 66.1 deaths per one million people, 41 per cent higher than 2012’s rate of 46.6, statistics showed today

There were 75 fatalities linked to fentanyl in England and Wales last year, an increase of 29 per cent from 2016, when there were 58. 

Fentanyl, originally developed in Belgium in the 1950s to aid cancer patients with their pain, is also partly behind a growing opioid crisis in the US. 

Even a tiny amount of the painkiller, which can be up to 10,000 times stronger than heroin and often sold on the dark web, can prove fatal. 

Carfentanyl, often used as an elephant tranquilliser because of its strength, was mentioned in death certificates in 2017 for the first time.   

The number of cocaine deaths rose from 371 in 2016 to 432 last year – but it is unsure whether these were down to the powder or crack.

Deaths involving heroin and morphine are 10 times higher than they were in 1993, when just 115 fatalities were recorded.

However, deaths involving both opioids decreased by four per cent last year to 1,164, the first decline since 2012.

Fentanyl, originally developed in Belgium in the 1950s to aid cancer patients with their pain, is also partly behind a growing opioid crisis in the US

Fentanyl, originally developed in Belgium in the 1950s to aid cancer patients with their pain, is also partly behind a growing opioid crisis in the US

And fatalities from so-called ‘legal highs’, such as spice, reduced by more than a half in 2017, from 123 in 2016 to 61.

The reduction follows the Government’s strict introduction of a blanket ban on new psychoactive substances.

But statisticians argued last year’s death rate remains similar to 2016, when there were 3,744 deaths related to drug poisoning.

ONS health analysis statistician Ellie Osborn said: ‘The figures published today show that the level of drug poisoning deaths in 2017 remained stable.

‘However, despite deaths from most opiates declining or remaining steady, deaths from fentanyl continued to rise, as did cocaine deaths.’  

Last year, there were 2,521 male drug-related deaths and 1,235 female.

Most were from drug misuse, which accounted for 67 per cent of the total number of drug poisoning deaths. 

Ian Hamilton, a drug researcher at York University, told MailOnline: ‘More people now die due to drugs than as a result of fatal car accidents. 

Last year, there were 2,521 male drug-related deaths and 1,235 female, according to ONS

Last year, there were 2,521 male drug-related deaths and 1,235 female, according to ONS

‘Unfortunately, these people are dying in their forties and fifties, decades before the average person. 

WHAT DRUGS WERE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE DEATHS? 

  • Heroin or morphine: 1,164
  • Methadone: 367 
  • Tramadol: 185 
  • Codeine not from compound formulation: 156
  • Dihydrocodeine not from compound formulation: 94
  • Fentanyl: 75 
  • Other specified opiate: 9 
  • Unspecified opiate: 190 
  • Cocaine: 432 
  • Any amphetamine: 150 
  • Ecstasy/MDMA: 56 
  • Cannabis: 29 
  • Any new psychoactive substance: 61 
  • Any benzodiazepine: 391 
  • Zopiclone/Zolpidem: 126 
  • Any antidepressant: 484
  • Any antipsychotic: 120
  • Paracetamol: 218 

‘These deaths are largely preventable but would require investment in drug treatment.

‘But treatment budgets have been savagely cut since 2010, and we are now seeing the horrific impact of these cuts on the record number of people dying.’

He added that young people dying from ecstasy often makes the headlines – 

But Mr Hamilton argued it is ‘middle-aged people using heroin and diazepam that make up the majority of these deaths,.’. 

Martin Powell, from Transform Drug Policy Foundation, accused politicians of not funding measures proven to save lives across the world.

He told the BBC: ‘The UK government has nowhere left to hide. They are responsible for vulnerable people dying in droves.’

Karen Tyrell, executive director of alcohol and drug charity Addaction, said: ‘The truth is that most drug-related deaths are preventable.

‘People who use opioids often have cumulative physical and mental health problems.

‘Most of them have had very difficult, often traumatic lives and we’re letting them down if we don’t give them the best care that we can.’

Ms Tyrell added: ‘Nobody wakes up in the morning and decides to become dependent on drugs.

‘Everyone deserves help, and we know every person can recover with the right support.’  

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