Drug-related deaths in England and Wales reached record high, driven primarily by opiates, figures show. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), there were 4,859 drug-related deaths recorded in 2021, or 84.4 deaths per million persons.
The office added that “this is the ninth consecutive annual rise, up 6.2 per cent from the previous year; and the highest number since records began more than a quarter of a century ago in 1993.”
The statistics include complications from prescription and over-the-counter medications, drug abuse, fatal accidents, suicides, and complications involving both regulated and uncontrolled substances.
Nearly two-thirds of drug-poisoning deaths (3,060) in 2021 were related to drug misuse, accounting for 53.2 deaths per million people.
Men accounted for more than two-thirds of deaths (3,275) from poisoning, a gender disparity that is consistent with previous years.
People who were born in the 1970s had a greater rate of drug overdose deaths; with people between the ages of 45 and 49 having the greatest rate.
The ONS added that deaths involving opiates and cocaine had been the main contributors to the overall rising trend during the previous ten years.
The east of England and London had the lowest rates of drug abuse and poisoning deaths, respectively, across all of England and Wales, while the north-east continued to have the highest rates.
Mark Moody, the chief executive of Change Grow Live, said every drug-related death was a tragedy. He added: “The only reasonable response to today’s statistics is to redouble our efforts to stop more people losing their lives to drugs.
“The government’s new drug strategy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to change things for the better; and Change Grow Live will work with partners, policymakers and the people who use our services to ensure that happens.”
David Bremner, the medical director for substance abuse at the charity Turning Point, said the figures reflect the effect of the pandemic on vulnerable groups.
He added: “The pandemic exacerbated an existing public health crisis; however, we are clear that drug deaths are preventable.
“At a time of political uncertainty, these new statistics provide a loud and clear call, whatever your political allegiances. The government’s 10-year drug strategy announced at the end of last year and additional funding coming into services is helping to turn the tide, but there is a way to go.
“We need sustained and coordinated action across health, including mental health, housing and social care services; in order to reduce the harm caused by drugs to individuals, families and communities. The government must continue to invest in these life-saving services.”