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14 October 2020

We Are With You responds to new ONS statistics which show drug related deaths have risen to record levels

The ONS today released the annual statistics showing deaths related to drug poisoning in England and Wales. The figures cover deaths registered in the calendar year of 2019.

The top line figures from the data are as follows:

  • There were 4,393 deaths related to drug poisoning registered in 2019. This is a slight increase on the 4,359 deaths registered in 2018 and is the highest number of deaths since the series began in 1993.
  • Males accounted for two thirds of drug poisoning deaths.
  • Opiates remain the most common substance to be involved in a death. Opiates were involved in 49.2% of drug poisonings, rising to 62.4% when deaths that had no drug type recorded are excluded.
  • Deaths due to cocaine (both powder and crack) rose again to the highest number on record. The 708 deaths in 2019 are over double the figures from 2015 and six times higher than in 2011. The increase was particularly stark for women with an increase of 26.5% compared to 2018.
  • Deaths involving new psychoactive substances have remained stable.
  • The most deprived areas of England and Wales recorded the highest rate of deaths, with the North East having the highest rate of deaths in comparison to population.
  • Over half of the deaths involved more than one drug and/or alcohol.

Laura Bunt, Deputy CEO at drug, alcohol and mental health charity With You (We Are With You, formerly Addaction), said:

“This is a really sad day. Every drug-related death is preventable, and each death has a huge impact on families and communities, continuing to be felt years down the line. Our thoughts are with the thousands of people who have lost a loved one in the past year. People who use drugs are often misunderstood, but behind most deaths are stories of trauma and people doing their best to cope with emotional pain that has never been resolved.

“We know that people who use drugs problematically but aren’t in treatment are most likely to die of a drug-related cause. The government's proposed new addiction strategy represents an opportunity to get more people the support they need. This includes improving the diversity of treatment through making services much more easily available to all communities, normalising seeking support, and reaching people where they are.

“It’s also clear that cocaine use has increased exponentially in the last decade, with both crack and powder becoming increasingly available and affordable, yet many people remain unaware of the potential harms. We need much better education early on in schools and throughout the population on how to use drugs in the safest way possible and what support is out there.

“We also need to recognise that problematic drug use is often a reaction to people’s surroundings. Issues such as rising homelessness, poor mental health and a lack of economic opportunities in some areas all lead to people using drugs. It’s therefore no surprise that drug-related deaths are highest in the UK’s most deprived areas, with the impact of the Covid-19 crisis likely to exacerbate many of these issues. For people already facing issues with drugs, alcohol and mental health, these may intensify over the coming months. It’s more important than ever that the government stays true to its levelling up agenda to address inequalities across the country.

“These figures are stark, but with some simple changes they can be brought down. The evidence is clear on what works; hopefully there is now the will to implement it.”