Deaths from cocaine and ‘legal highs’ cause number of drugs fatalities to soar by record increase to 4,359 in England and Wales last year, highest since records began in 1993
- The north-east of England has significantly higher death rate than other areas
- London has the lowest rate, according to the Office for National Statistics
- Opiates such as heroin and morphine are the most common killers of users
Drug-related deaths in England and Wales are the highest they have been since records began more than a quarter of a century ago, official figures show.
There were 4,359 deaths from drug poisoning recorded in England and Wales in 2018 – the highest number since records began in 1993, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.
The official body said it was also the highest annual increase since records began, rising 16 per cent (603 deaths) from 2017.
The number of deaths caused by cocaine (pictured) and legal highs across the UK has doubled
More than half of the deaths involved an opiate (2,208 deaths), while deaths from new psychoactive substances, or legal highs, doubled in a year to 125.
And deaths involving cocaine doubled over the three years to 2018, reaching their highest ever level.
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’.
Heroin and other opiates are the most frequent killers of drug users living in the UK, the Office for National Statistics says
‘We produce these figures to help inform decision makers working towards protecting those at risk of dying from drug poisoning.’
The ONS figures cover deaths involving controlled and non-controlled drugs, prescription and over-the-counter medications.
They also include accidents and suicides involving drugs, and complications such as deep vein thrombosis or septicaemia from intravenous drug use.
Almost half of the deaths registered last year will have happened in previous years, due to the time it can take for an inquest to be completed, statisticians believe, adding that many deaths that occurred in 2018 will be missing from these figures.
Around two-thirds of drug poisoning deaths were from drug misuse (2,917) – continuing a trend seen over the last decade.
Males accounted for more than two-thirds of drug poisonings (2,984, compared with 1,375 females).
Most of the recorded deaths were due to accidental poisoning (80 per cent of males and 67 per cent of females), and then intentional self-poisoning (16 per cent of males and 30 per cent of females).
The remaining deaths were caused by mental and behavioural disorders as a result of drug use or assault involving drugs.