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Drug-related deaths in England and Wales hit record high

Government cuts to addiction services partly blamed for fuelling the increase

DRUG-RELATED deaths in England and Wales have hit a record high, with government cuts to addiction services partly blamed for fuelling the increase. 

In 2020, there were 4,561 deaths due to drug poisoning, with a growing number of people dying from opioids and cocaine use, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said. 

The figure represents an increase of 3.8 per cent from the previous year, and the highest number since records began in 1993.

Since the Tories came to power more than a decade ago, drug-related deaths have soared by 60.9 per cent. 

Health professionals blamed years of Tory cuts to addiction services for the increase in drug deaths while charities said the figures constitute a public health emergency. 

The ONS said that two-thirds of deaths were related to drug misuse. Men constituted more than two-thirds of those who died, and the highest rate of drug misuse deaths was found in those aged 45 to 49.

Of all the deaths recorded in 2020, around half involved opiates, while 777 related to the use of cocaine, a 9.7 per cent rise from 2019. 

It is the ninth consecutive annual rise in deaths linked to cocaine use. Drug-related deaths in the most deprived areas of England were also around five-and-a-half times higher than those in the least deprived parts of the country for both men and women. 

Figures released last week showed drug-related deaths in Scotland had hit a record of 1,339 in 2020, meaning it remains the country with the highest drug death rate in Europe. 

Royal College of Psychiatrists Dr Emily Finch said: “Years of cuts have left addictions services ill-equipped to treat people and prevent these deaths from rising.

“The government needs to wake up to the fact that cuts to services, disconnecting NHS mental health services from addiction services and shifting the focus away from harm reduction to abstinence-based recovery is destroying lives and fuelling the increase in drug-related deaths.”

Turning Point national director of operations Clare Taylor said that every drug-related death is preventable and the rise constitutes a “public health emergency.”

A government spokesman called every drug-related death a tragedy, adding: “We are already investing £148 million to tackle the root causes of drug misuse, including £80m for treatment and recovery, the largest investment in the drug treatment system for 15 years.”


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