Drug Related Deaths in England and Wales Reach Record Levels

Drug addiction remains a major problem here in the UK. This illness does not discriminate based on race, colour, age or gender, and no matter what one’s background or wealth, this individual can still be affected, despite what many people believe.

There is a lot of stereotyping around the issue of drug addiction, with many of the opinion that those affected are a particular ‘type’ of person. Individuals with no experience of the illness will have an opinion of what it is and of what those affected look or act like. Those with first-hand experience of drug addiction will be able to tell you that it does not matter what type of family you come from, it can still take hold of an individual member and destroy his/her life.

In fact, drug addiction is an illness for which there is no cure, and it is one that continues to claim the lives of many people around the UK every single year. Despite it being a treatable illness, the number of individuals succumbing to drug addiction has reached record levels according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Record Number of Drug Deaths

In 2015, the number of people who died in England and Wales due to drugs reached its highest ever levels. The number of deaths attributed to drug poisoning in 2015 was 3,674, of which 2,479 were the result of illegal drugs only. The number of cocaine and heroin deaths were at their highest since records began back in 1993.

It is believed that because the drugs being sold on the market now are purer than before, more people are suffering fatal drug overdoses. However, according to Vanessa Fearn, a researcher at the ONS, age is another factor. It is believed that those who have been using illegal drugs for many years are now succumbing to their illnesses as their bodies finally give up on them.

Declining Drug Use

According to the Department for Health, the number of individuals using drugs is decreasing. Nevertheless, the numbers dying from drug use is at its highest ever levels. In 2015, there were 43.8 drug-related deaths in England and Wales for every million people. The area with the highest number of drug-related deaths was Blackpool, with 19 for every 100,000 people.

According to Ms Fearn, those who are receiving drug addiction treatment are ‘older than they used to be’, and she blamed an increase in the purity of drugs such as heroin for the rising number of drug deaths in the past four years. She said, “Deaths involving heroin and morphine have more than doubled since 2012, partly driven by a rise in heroin purity and availability over the last three years. Age is also a factor in the record levels of drug deaths, as heroin users are getting older and they often have other conditions, such as lung disease and hepatitis, that make them particularly vulnerable.”

Ageing Drug Addicts

There is a high proportion in the 30-39 age bracket continuing to abuse drugs, and deaths among this age group are at a record high. There were 98.4 deaths per million people in this age bracket in 2015, closely followed by the 40-49 age group, which had 95.1 deaths per million inhabitants.

It is believed that the record amount of heroin produced in 2014 may be contributing to the fact that the drug available is much purer than it was a few years ago. Those used to taking a particular purity of drug can easily overdose when they get something that is purer, and many experts believe this is leading to an increased number of drug deaths in England and Wales.

Cocaine Abuse

Abuse of cocaine is also on the increase, with the number of cocaine deaths in 2015 up by almost thirty per cent, from 247 in 2014 to 320 in 2015. The number of cocaine deaths has been increasing year on year since 2011, and statistics show it is the drug that is most commonly linked to deaths of males aged between 30 to 49.

The ONS report into the rising number of drug deaths stated, “Since cocaine is often taken alongside heroin, it is likely that changes in the purity and availability of heroin, as well as increases in the purity of cocaine, are contributing to the rise in deaths involving cocaine in recent years.”

Cocaine and its crystallised version – crack cocaine – are highly addictive drugs with those affected often finding it impossible to overcome the illness. As the substance is often cut with other ingredients, it can have an average purity of just thirty-two per cent, according to FRANK, the drugs advice website. With cocaine purity getting stronger, it is more likely that the number of cocaine-related fatalities will continue to rise.

Tackling the Rising Number of Drug Deaths

The number of deaths linked to so-called ‘legal highs’ – aka new psychoactive substances – has also been increasing over the past five years. In 2015, there were 114 registered deaths linked to these now-banned substances.

The UK Government introduced a blanket ban on all psychoactive substances in May 2016 to tackle the issue, but many fear that the trade will just move underground and will not solve the problem.

The Local Government Association and Public Health England (PHE) recently released their findings on the issue of how to tackle the increasing number of drug deaths. The report stated that more needs to be done in terms of top quality treatment for drug addiction, which should include tailored treatment plans for every patient. PHE’s Director of Drugs, Alcohol and Tobacco, Rosanna O’Connor, said, “There is considerable variation across the country, with some regions showing significant increases in recent years. Public Health England will continue to support local authorities in delivering tailored, effective services where people stand the best chance of recovery.”

Educating the Public

It is important that more education is also provided in relation to the dangers of drugs. A spokesperson for the Department of Health said, “We are developing a new strategy which will include help to educate young people about the risks [of drugs].”

He added, “Any death related to misuse of drugs is a tragedy. While overall drug use continues to decline, our approach is to get people off drugs for good, with decisions on treatment based on an individual’s clinical need.”

Chair of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board Izzi Seccombe said that local councils were committed to doing everything they could to ensure that those affected by drug addiction can access the treatments they need. She also said that councils were committed to spending more on addiction treatment ‘than in any other area of public health’. Nonetheless, she also went on to say, “With public health grants for local authorities being cut by 9% over the next four years … no service is immune from spending reductions, which could seriously undermine our efforts to prevent all kinds of major health conditions.”

Source:  Drug-related deaths reach record levels in England and Wales (BBC)

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