illegal drugs smallDrug poisoning is the fourth most common cause of death in people aged 15-49, new data released by the Office for National Statistics have revealed.

The statistics revealed that:

  • Deaths involving heroin and/or morphine doubled between 2012 and 2015 from 579 to 1,201. These 2 substances remain the most commonly mentioned opiates in drug-related deaths
  • Over half (54%) of all deaths related to drug poisoning in 2015 involved an opioid drug (excluding opioids which are contained in paracetamol compounds such as co-codamol). This proportion has been relatively stable since 2007
  • Deaths involving tramadol fell for the first time, from 240 deaths in 2014 to 208 in 2015, marking the reversal of the upward trend seen since the first recorded death in 1996
  • There were 320 deaths involving cocaine in 2015, up from 247 in 2014. Mortality rates have increased for 4 years in a row, and reached an all-time high of 5.6 deaths per million population in 2015, which was nearly 3 times higher than the rate in 2011 (1.9 deaths per million)
  • The number of deaths involving amphetamines increased from 151 in 2014 to 157 in 2015. This is a mortality rate of 2.7 deaths per million population, which is the highest since records began in 1993 
  • The mortality rate from deaths involving new psychoactive substances (NPS) is very low compared with heroin and/or morphine (1.9 deaths per million compared with 21.3). However, NPS deaths have increased sharply over the past 5 years, with 114 deaths registered in 2015, up from 82 deaths in 2014 
  • There were 366 deaths involving benzodiazepines in 2015, and the mortality rate of 6.5 deaths per million population was similar to the rate seen in 2014.
Yasmin Batliwala, Chair of drug and alcohol treatment charity WDP, said: “This alarming increase in drug-related deaths for the third year running raises serious questions regarding the UK government’s drug policy. Drug prevention was highlighted as a key outcome of the UK government’s drug strategy, and it is disappointing that we are not seeing these promises realised. 

“Drug poisoning has been identified as the fourth most common cause of death for the 15-49 age bracket with a large majority dying from cocaine, heroin and morphine. Most of these tragic cases are not those who have ever sought or have recently received treatment. The UK government must come to understand that prioritising drug education is key to stopping these numbers from rising further. We need to provide greater outreach to those struggling with substance misuse.

“The current ‘tough on drugs’ strategy has been counterproductive. Those vulnerable to drug abuse are not responding to the current policies, and responsible reform is required to focus efforts on treatment by clinical practitioners and pharmacists.

“Positively, overall drug use has declined, with treatment services throughout the country working hard to provide support to those individuals suffering from substance misuse. However, the worrying cut in funding to these treatment services lowers the impact that these have been shown to provide, threatening the progress made in this area.”