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Understanding the scale of UK’s drug problem

Deaths due to drug misuse in UK

Drug misuse deaths are on the rise; it’s time to expose the truth in numbers.

The Office for National Statistics has recently released data that shows a record-number of deaths due to drug misuse in the United Kingdom. A total of 2382 drug misuse deaths were registered in England alone in 2016, representing an increase of 3.6% from the previous year, the highest number ever recorded.

Drug misuse is defined as a death caused by drug abuse or drug dependence and extends to account for deaths where the underlying cause is drug poisoning and any of the substances controlled under the the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 are involved.

The majority of drug misuse deaths occur in men. That is 73% of the total, a statistic which at first sight appears quite shocking. However, Tim Leighton, Director of Professional Education and Research at Action on Addiction, notes that “this can be explained by the fact that about twice as many men as women use illicit drugs.”

He also said “men are even more likely to use heroin and to inject, which are strong risk factors for drug-related death.”

It was also found that drug misuse is third most common cause of death for those aged 15-49, with the highest rates of drug misuse deaths being those in their 40s, overtaking the previous year’s highest mortality rate age group that was the 30s.

Michael Otoole, Chief Executive of Mentor UK, the UK’s leading charity working to prevent alcohol and drug misuse among children and young people, said “the reasons for this are chiefly associated with heroin use and  the ‘cohort effect’ – older, long-term heroin users dying in increasing numbers.”

“An ageing cohort of heroin users, many of whom started to use heroin in the 1980s and 90s, are now experiencing cumulative health issues that make them more susceptible to overdose.”

More than half of all deaths involved an opiate, mainly heroin or morphine, followed by antidepressants, benzodiazepine, cocaine, paracetamol, and amphetamines. Heroin related deaths are the highest they have ever been since records began 20 years ago and have increased by double since 2012.

All in all, Tim Leighton says “our drug overdose rate pales in comparison to what is happening in the States, where over 66,000 people died of overdose last year (a rate over 3 times higher than England and Wales, with about 3750).”

Whether or not this is supposed to provide comfort, it doesn’t deter from the fact that the UK has a drug problem.

Public Health England and the Local Government Association found two main factors responsible for the rising numbers of deaths due to drug misuse. The first factor, which is likely to be the reason for the sudden surge, is an increase in the availability and purity of heroin. The second, as mentioned previously, is the health deterioration of older heroin users.