Belfast Telegraph

UK Website Of The Year

Home News UK

Deaths from drug misuse reach record levels

Published 09/09/2016

Statisticians pointed to increasing purity of substances such as heroin as a possible factor behind the increase in deaths
Statisticians pointed to increasing purity of substances such as heroin as a possible factor behind the increase in deaths

Drug-related deaths have hit record levels as the purity of heroin and cocaine increases.

Official figures show fatalities involving the two Class A drugs were at their highest since comparable records started in 1993.

Statisticians pointed to rising purity as a possible factor behind the trend.

Overall, a record 3,674 drug poisoning deaths involving both legal and illegal drugs were registered in 2015. Of these deaths 2,479, or two-thirds, involved illegal drugs only.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said the mortality rate from drug misuse was the highest on record, at 43.8 deaths per million population.

ONS researcher Vanessa Fearn said: "Deaths involving heroin and morphine have more than doubled since 2012, partly driven by a rise in heroin purity and availability over the last three years.

"Age is also a factor in the record levels of drug deaths, as heroin users are getting older and they often have other conditions, such as lung disease and hepatitis, that make them particularly vulnerable."

Deaths involving heroin and/or morphine doubled in three years to 1,201 in 2015.

There were 320 deaths involving cocaine, up from 247 in the previous year. Mortality rates relating to the drug have increased for four years in a row, with the majority of cocaine-linked fatalities occurring in men aged 30 to 49.

The figure for cocaine-related deaths will include some where it was taken in the form of crack cocaine, the ONS report said.

It added: " Since cocaine is often taken alongside heroin, it is likely that changes in the purity and availability of heroin, as well as increases in the purity of cocaine, are contributing to the rise in deaths involving cocaine in recent years."

Meanwhile ecstasy, or MDMA, was mentioned on 57 death certificates last year - the highest number in a decade. Statisticians said the reasons behind the rise are unclear.

Deaths linked to new psychoactive substances - formerly known as "legal highs" - have increased sharply, with 114 registered last year. New laws were introduced to clamp down on the substances earlier this year.

The figures also showed:

:: Males were almost three times more likely to die from drug misuse than females

:: People aged 30 to 39 had the highest mortality rate from drug misuse, followed by those aged 40 to 49

:: The mortality rate from drug misuse was significantly lower in England than in Wales - 42.9 compared with 58.3 deaths per million population.

:: In England, the North East had the highest mortality rate from drug misuse for the third year running (68.2 deaths per million population), while the East Midlands had the lowest (29.8 deaths per million).

Rosanna O'Connor, of Public Health England, said: "Drug use is the fourth most common cause of death for those aged 15-49 in England and we know that the majority of those dying from opiates have either never, or not recently, been in treatment.

"Reassuringly, overall drug use has declined and treatment services have helped many people to recover, but there is a need for an enhanced effort to ensure the most vulnerable can access treatment."

Izzi Seccombe, chair of the Local Government Association's community wellbeing board, said councils spend more on drug and alcohol treatment than in any other area of public health.

She added: "However, with public health grants for local authorities being cut by 9% over the next four years... no service is immune from spending reductions, which could seriously undermine our efforts to prevent all kinds of major health conditions."

A Department of Health spokesman said: "Any death related to misuse of drugs is a tragedy.

"While overall drug use continues to decline, our approach is to get people off drugs for good, with decisions on treatment based on an individual's clinical need.

"An expert group has published its recommendations today to help curb the numbers of people dying from drug misuse.

"We are also developing a new strategy which will include help to educate young people about the risks."

Read More

From Belfast Telegraph