Charities have slammed the government for its lack of action on drug deaths in England and Wales – which also hit another record high – with experts calling the latest figures ‘utter disgrace’.
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That was up from 15 the previous year, and the highest number since records began more than a quarter century ago in 1993.
They were among 4,859 drug poisoning deaths recorded in England and Wales last year – the ninth consecutive increase and also a record.
The figures cover drug abuse and dependence, fatal accidents, suicides and complications involving controlled and uncontrolled drugs, prescription and over-the-counter drugs.
Of the drug-related deaths recorded nationally last year, 3,060 (63%) were due to misuse, meaning they involved illegal drugs, or were the result of abuse or drug addiction – including three at Burnley.
About half of the deaths recorded nationally in 2021 will have occurred in previous years due to delays in death registration, the ONS said.
Niamh Eastwood, executive director of Release, the national drug expertise centre, said every drug-related death is preventable.
“It’s a total shame that we’re talking about record drug deaths again,” she added.
“Drug deaths are a public health emergency across the UK that can and must be adequately addressed. Government inaction is a political choice.”
She added that deaths will continue to rise without a commitment to “serious policy reform”, such as the decriminalization of possession and the safe supply of all controlled drugs.
The ONS said the general upward trend over the past decade was mainly due to deaths involving opiates, but also those involving other substances such as cocaine.
Just under half of drug-related deaths recorded in England and Wales last year involved an opiate.
Dr David Bremner, medical director of the Turning Point charity’s addictions group, called on the government to continue investing in “life-saving” health, housing and social care services.
He said: “If these cancer deaths were increasing at this rate, we would expect action at a certain rate at which I think we should expect the same for people who use drugs.”
ONS figures show the age-standardized death rate – which takes into account age and population size – stood at 17.4 deaths per 100,000 population in Burnley between 2019 and 2021, well above the 7.9 rate for England.
A UK government spokesperson said its drugs strategy will help rebuild drug treatment services and tackle criminal supply chains.
He added: “This will help prevent almost 1,000 deaths, provide more than 54,500 new treatment places – a 19% increase on current figures – and help another 24,000 people recover from substance dependence.
“This funding comes on top of annual public health grant spending and builds on the £80m investment in treatment services in 2021 which has reduced drug-related deaths by helping services deliver more naloxone, which can help reverse opioid overdoses.