Drug-related deaths in 2020 highest since records began - but not in London

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There were 4,561 deaths related to drug poisoning registered in England and Wales in 2020 (PA)
There were 4,561 deaths related to drug poisoning registered in England and Wales in 2020 (PA)

Drug-related deaths in England and Wales have risen for the eighth year in a row and remain at their highest level in more than a quarter of a century, figures show.

There were 4,561 deaths related to drug poisoning registered in England and Wales in 2020, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

This is the highest number since records began in 1993, and up 3.8 per cent from the previous year.

Due to death registration delays, around half of the deaths will have occurred in the previous year and the majority before the coronavirus pandemic, the ONS said.

The figures show that rates of drug-related deaths have risen by 60.9 per cent in the last 10 years – from 49.4 deaths per million in 2010 to 79.5 deaths per million in 2020.

Of the deaths registered last year, two thirds (2,996) were related to drug misuse, and around half (2,263) involved an opiate.

Some 777 deaths involved cocaine – a 9.7 per cent rise from 2019 and more than five times higher than the 144 cocaine-related deaths registered in 2010.

Priory consultant psychiatrist Dr Niall Campbell, one of the UK’s leading drug addiction experts, based at the Priory’s Roehampton Hospital in south-west London, said: “The figures are alarming and reflect what we are seeing at the Priory.

“Cocaine use is prevalent across classes and used by all levels of society. There’s been a huge rise in its availability, and it’s as easy to get hold of as pizza – often people get it delivered to their door.

“It’s highly addictive and still seen as fashionable in many circles, and we see people whose lives have been totally destroyed by it. As people get older, especially if they have been using it for some years, they are far more vulnerable to heart attacks.”

The figures also show a higher rate of death among men compared to women. Among males, there were 109.7 drug poisoning deaths registered per million in 2020 (3,108 registered deaths), compared with 49.8 deaths per million among females (1,453 deaths).

The north-east had the highest rate of deaths relating to drug misuse with 104.6 deaths per million people, while London had the lowest rate with 33.1 deaths per million people.

Councillor David Fothergill, chairman of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board, said: “Every death to drug misuse is a tragedy and councils are absolutely determined to ensure vulnerable people have the right support and treatment, despite the ongoing pressures of the pandemic, as part of their public health and wider responsibilities.”

Separate figures released last week showed that 1,339 people died from drugs in Scotland last year.

It comes a week after police warned of the dangers of taking illegal substances as a man died and two others are in hospital after falling ill at a north London nightclub.

The Metropolitan Police said officers were called to The Cause in Ashley Road, Tottenham, shortly after 3am on Saturday following a number of people becoming unwell.

The force said a 21-year-old man was taken to hospital where he was pronounced dead.

The UK continues to have the worst drug death rate in Europe.

Additional reporting by the Press Association news agency.

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