Home Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy Drug Deaths Highest Since Records Began. Experts Slam Budget Cuts to Treatment Services and Rise in Death Toll

Drug Deaths Highest Since Records Began. Experts Slam Budget Cuts to Treatment Services and Rise in Death Toll

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The number of deaths related to drug poisoning last year has reached the highest number since records began back in 1993, the Office for National Statistics has revealed this morning. 

4,393 drug-related deaths were registered in 2019 in England and Wales, equivalent to an age-standardised mortality rate of 76.7 deaths per million people. 

Detailed analysis of ONS data by drug addiction treatment experts UKAT shows a 52% rise in drug poisoning deaths in the last ten years and a 17% rise in just three years. 

Although the majority of deaths were recorded as accidental, UKAT’s analysis reveals that 1 in 5 of all drug poisoning deaths in 2019 were in fact intentional. 

Males accounted for two-thirds (or 2,968) of drug poisoning deaths last year. 3% of men who died suffered from mental and behavioural disorder due to drug use

The North East had a statistically significantly higher rate of deaths relating to drug misuse than all other English regions; 95 deaths per million people. The East of England had the lowest rate; 33.6 deaths per million people. Today’s ONS report marks a stark and frightening north-south divide. 

The report also shows that working-age people living in the most deprived areas of Wales have significantly higher mortality rates from drug poisoning. People aged between 40 and 49 years had the highest age-specific rate of drug poisoning (374.3 deaths per million), nearly seven times higher than the rate in the least deprived quintile (53.8 deaths per million).

Almost half (49.2%) of all drug-related deaths involved opiates such as Heroin and Morphine.

Prescribed opioids such as Tramadol, Codeine, Dihydrocodeine accounted for 10% (470) of all drug-related deaths last year according to UKAT’s analysis; drugs prescribed to patients by their GPs. 

Similarly, antidepressants, also prescribed by GPs, also account for 10% of all drug deaths last year (443), up by 16% in just 9 years (from 393). 

In 2019, there were 140 deaths from the drug zopiclone – used to treat insomnia, a figure which has risen from just 79 deaths a decade ago. 

Benzodiazepines, sometimes called ‘benzos’, are a class of psychoactive drugs used to sedate the body and help treat anxiety. Familiar drugs within the benzo family include Valium and Xanax. UKAT’s analysis of today’s report reveals that deaths from benzodiazepines accounted for 9% of all drug deaths last year, up from 5% ten years ago. 

Collectively, UKAT’s analysis of the ONS data shows that for the types of drugs that can be prescribed by GPs – tramadol, codeine, dihydrocodeine, antidepressants, zopiclone, benzodiazepines, antipsychotics, and even paracetamol; the death count in 2019 stood at 1,805; 40% of all drug deaths registered last year. This is significantly higher than the collective number of deaths from the same drugs ten years ago, 1,360. 

Their analysis also shows that the number of deaths from illegal drugs such as cannabis in 2019 is the highest on record at 31 deaths last year, compared to 22 in 2018 and just 7 in 2011– a rise of over 300% in just 8 years. 

The most concerning rise is for drugs relating to cocaine; cocaine deaths rose for the eighth consecutive year to their highest level, accounting for 16% of all deaths last year. 

UKAT’s analysis shows that drug poisoning deaths involving Cocaine increased by 26.5% for females and 7.7% for males between 2018 and 2019. 

Nuno Albuquerque, Group Treatment Lead for the drug addiction treatment experts UKAT comments: ‘These ONS figures are saddening but unsurprising and clearly show, in black and white, that the problem isn’t going away, and it’s not getting any better. The figures show that more and more people are dying from drugs that can be prescribed by their GPs, proving that the drug problem in this country is not just one of illegal substance misuse.

‘We must remember that these aren’t just numbers; they’re someone’s mother, father, child or friend and we can’t stress enough the value of investing in the treatment of addiction.

‘2020 has proven to be a difficult year for many. Some will undoubtedly turn to misusing drugs as a coping mechanism. Our fear is that these figures could tip off the scale in next year’s report unless Councils take proactive, preventative action today in the investment of drug and alcohol treatment services in order to save lives.

‘We’ve already highlighted the drastic reduction in budget cuts to substance misuse services every year since 2013 and unfortunately, these figures now show the impact this is having on the most vulnerable people living in society. It is not a coincidence.’

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