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3 August 2021

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 2020

The topline figures from the data are as follows:

  • In 2020, 4,561 deaths related to drug poisoning were registered in England and Wales, this is 3.8% higher than the number of deaths registered in 2019
  • There were 3,108 male deaths, compared with 1,453 female deaths.
  • Rates of drug-misuse death continue to be elevated among those born in the 1970s, with the highest rate in those aged 45 to 49 years.
  • The North East continues to have the highest rate of deaths relating to drug misuse (104.6 deaths per million people); London had the lowest rate (33.1 deaths per million people).
  • Approximately half of all drug poisoning deaths registered in 2020 involved an opiate (49.6%; 2,263 deaths); 777 deaths involved cocaine, which is 9.7% more than 2019, and more than five times the amount recorded a decade ago (144 deaths in 2010).
  • There have been increasing numbers of deaths involving benzodiazepines in 2020 (a rise of 19.3% when compared with 2019; from 399 to 476 deaths), pregabalin (a rise of 41.0%; from 244 to 344 deaths), gabapentin (a rise of 32.6%; from 89 to 118 deaths) and zopiclone (a rise of 4.3%; from 140 to 146 deaths).
  • Statistics are based on the year of death registration – because of death registration delays, around half of these deaths will have occurred in the previous year (2019), and the majority will have occurred before the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in the UK.

Responding to the figures, Jon Murray, Executive Director of Services in England at drug, alcohol and mental health charity With You says:

“The stark figures released today by the ONS are tragic and concerning. Behind these figures are heartbreaking stories of extreme trauma and resilience. Every drug-related death is preventable and impacts families and communities years down the line. Our thoughts are with the thousands of people who have lost a loved one in the past year.

“For many people drug use is a reaction to their environment so it’s no surprise that drug-related deaths are highest in the most deprived areas of the country. Issues such as rising homelessness, poor mental health and a lack of economic opportunities all lead to people using drugs, and for many, these challenges have become worse due to the pandemic. Too many people who need treatment aren't accessing it, and too many people are unaware of the potential harms of their drug use.

“These figures are unacceptable but we are hopeful that change is possible. The recommendations in Dame Carol Black’s Independent Review of Drugs outline achievable steps that will help to reduce the level of drug-related deaths in England and Wales. The additional investment through project ADDER and the newly announced drug strategy are all positive developments but we need to do more.

“We are calling on the Government to respond to today’s statistics by bringing serious political commitment to this issue and ensuring the appropriate financial investment is made in the upcoming Comprehensive Spending Review to action the recommendations of Dame Carol Black’s review.”