DRUG deaths have soared to record levels – plunging Britain into “public health crisis”, experts warn.
New figures show that there were 4,359 deaths from drug poisoning in England and Wales in 2018 – the highest number since records began in 1993.
The Office for National Statistics said it was also the highest annual increase since records began, rising 16 per cent – 603 deaths – from 2017.
Deaths involving cocaine has doubled since 2015 and are now at the highest level, the official body said.
There are significant regional variations – with more deprived and coastal areas having the highest rates of death.
The North East had a significantly higher rate of deaths relating to drug misuse than all other English regions, while London had the lowest rate.
While there were increases in deaths involving a wider range of substances, heroin continues to be the drug that accounts for most of these deaths, figures show.
Ben Humberstone, deputy director for health analysis and life events at the ONS, said: “The number of deaths from drug use in 2018 was the highest since our records began in 1993.
“We have also seen the biggest year-on-year percentage increase.
“Previously, this had been linked to a rise in deaths related to opiates like heroin and morphine, but last year there were also increases in deaths across a wider variety of substances including cocaine and what had been known as ‘legal highs’.
“We produce these figures to help inform decision makers working towards protecting those at risk of dying from drug poisoning.”
Experts warn that it’s “no coincidence” deaths have since funding for treatment was cut.
Prof Ian Hamilton, a senior lecturer in addiction and mental health at the University of York, said: “This is now a public health crisis.
“Unusually, we actually know how to prevent these deaths.
“It just needs Government action – ideally a minister who could co-ordinate a cross-department approach, as it will require more than one department to reverse this record rise in deaths.
“There are three things the Government could do immediately that we know would reduce these deaths.
“First of all, open drug consumption rooms which provide a safe place for people to inject drugs as this reduces accidental overdose.
“Secondly, reversing the funding cuts to treatment, these cuts have been deepest in the areas that have the highest rates of deaths.
“And finally, ensure that the optimum dose of a substitute drug like methadone is given for as long as necessary, as it stands people are being rushed through treatment to ensure waiting times are minimised.”
Prof Hamilton added: “The government needs to show leadership on this issue as it might not be popular among voters to invest tax payers money in drug treatment, but these deaths effect everyone in some of the most deprived communities in our country.
“These people have a life expectancy not seen since Queen Victoria where the average age of death was in your forties.”
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