The number of drug poisoning cases handled by hospitals in England has risen for the third year in a row, new figures show.
New data from NHS Digital, published on Thursday, revealed there were 18,053 hospital admissions for poisoning by drug misuse in 2018-19 – up 6% from 17,031 the previous year and 7.5% on 2016-17.
It is the second highest number of admissions for drug poisoning since 2012-13, with the figures peaking at 18,128 in 2015-16.
The data also found there were 7,376 hospital admissions for drug-related mental and behavioural disorders – 14% less than in 2015-16 but still 30% higher than the 5,668 in 2008-09.
Campaigners said the statistics showed that the current approach to tackling drug misuse was not working and called for the next government to treat people with “compassion and dignity” instead of punishing them.
Drug and alcohol charity Addaction policy researcher Robin Pollard said: “With drug-related deaths at record levels, it’s clear our current approach to problematic drug use isn’t working.
“Trying to arrest our way out of the issue has been a monumental failure and the next government must follow the evidence, treating people with compassion and dignity, not punishment.
“At the same time, there needs to be investment into drug and alcohol treatment to allow services to offer the intense, person-centred support we know works, with a particular focus on the UK’s most deprived areas.
“However we shouldn’t stop there. Other evidence-based approaches such as safer consumption rooms, drug testing facilities and heroin-assisted treatment should also be an option where needed.
“It’s time to put people’s well-being and safety first.”
Earlier this year, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed there were 4,359 deaths from drug poisoning recorded in England and Wales in 2018 – the highest number since records began in 1993.
The ONS said it was also the highest annual increase since records began, rising 16% (603 deaths) from 2017.
Two-thirds (2,917) of these were related to drug misuse, it added.
NHS Digital said this was a 17% increase on the 2,503 deaths related to poisoning by drug misuse in 2017 and 46% higher than the 2,004 recorded 10 years ago in 2008.
The new NHS Digital report found that more than half the poisoning by drug misuse admissions in 2018 were due to so-called “other opioids”, which includes drugs such as codeine and morphine.
A total of 9,486 admissions were due to other opioids, while the next highest was 2,568 for “other synthetic narcotics”, followed by 1,820 for heroin.
Mr Pollard, from Addaction, said: “There needs to be a national push on the opioid overdose reversal drug Naloxone.
“It’s a safe, effective, life-saving tool and we need to get people trained and carrying Naloxone all over the country.”