Drug deaths in England and Wales reach record levels

Image source, Science Photo Library

More than 3,300 people died from drug poisoning in 2014 in England and Wales, the highest figure since modern records began in 1993, the Office for National Statistics says.

According to its latest report, two thirds involved illegal drugs.

Cocaine-related deaths rose to 247 - up from 169 in 2013, while deaths from heroin and/or morphine increased by 579 to 952 between 2012 and 2014.

The Department of Health said any drug-related death was a tragedy.

But while in England there was a 17% rise in the drug misuse mortality rate in 2014, up to 39.7 per million head of population, in Wales the rate fell by 16% to 39 deaths per million, the lowest since 2006.

The number of people dying from drugs misuse in Wales fell by 20% to 168 last year, down from 208 recorded deaths in 2013.

Legal drugs which were misused and associated with deaths during this period include Tramadol, linked to 240 cases, codeine, which was associated with 136, and Diazepam, linked to 258.

Of the 3,346 drug poisoning deaths registered in 2014, illegal drugs were involved with 2,248 cases.

Males were more than 2.5 times more likely to die from drug misuse than females, the report says.

People aged 40 to 49 had the highest mortality rate from drug misuse - 88.4 deaths per million population - followed by people aged 30 to 39 - 87.9 deaths per million.

Male deaths

As in previous years, the majority were males, with 2,246 deaths compared with 1,100 female deaths.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "Although we are seeing fewer people year on year using heroin, in particular young people, any death related to drugs is a tragedy.

"Our drugs strategy is about helping people get off drugs and stay off them for good, and we will continue to help local authorities give tailored treatment to users."

Image source, Science Photo Library
Image caption,
Deaths from heroin abuse have increased, up to 952 cases recorded in 2014

Rosanna O'Connor, director of Alcohol, Drugs and Tobacco at Public Health England said the latest rise in deaths caused by heroin use was of "great concern".

She added: "The increased global availability and purity of heroin is clearly having an impact in England.

"Fewer people are using heroin but the harms are increasingly concentrated among older, more vulnerable users and those not recently in touch with their local drug treatment services.

"Reassuringly, overall drug use has also declined and treatment services have helped many people to recover but these figures show the need for an enhanced effort."

The BBC's home affairs correspondent, Danny Shaw, says that while there is plenty of coverage of the use of nitrous oxide, known as laughing gas, the number of deaths from the use of that drug remains in single figures and is dwarfed by heroin and cocaine deaths.

The news comes after it was revealed last month that the number of drug-related deaths in Scotland has risen to its highest level since records began.

The National Records of Scotland report said 613 people died as a result of drugs in 2014.

More on this story