The Office for National Statistics has published the latest England and Wales statistics on drug-related deaths for 2019. Yet again they reveal an appalling picture of human loss and suffering with a now familiar trend of primarily middle-aged men in our poorest areas dying.
4,393 people were recorded as dying of drug poisoning in 2019, a small increase from 4,359 in 2018. While the numbers show tentative signs of stabilising, the long view shows that the latest figures constitute — yet again — a record year in almost a decade of increasing deaths. The latest European Drug Report, published last month, confirms the UK’s position as amongst the worst European countries for drug-related deaths.
As to who is dying and why, the figures demonstrate very little change from previous years. People dying from drug poisoning are likely to be middle-aged, opiate using men living in the most deprived parts of the country. Opiates are involved in almost half of all the recorded deaths, with over half involving more than one drug or a combination of drugs and alcohol.
However, the picture above should not obscure other important realities. Deaths resulting from cocaine use have seen a particularly concerning increase and are now at six times 2011’s level. Although the majority of those who die are male a steady third is female, which requires a bespoke response focused on the needs of women.
This shocking increase has occurred against a back-drop of disinvestment and system fragmentation. The public health grant has reduced 24% in per head spending since 2015/16; some of the most deprived parts of our country, which routinely experience the highest levels of deaths, have seen reductions in drug treatment budgets of up to 40%.
The latest figures only add urgency to our current funding and commissioning policy situation. The Second Black Review, which we expect to report some time before Christmas, will trace the outline of a more ambitious and more effective system; powered by the extensive extant evidence-base, maximising routes into recovery but crucially delivering the interventions that we know keep people safe — and alive. It is of essential, then, that the imminent Comprehensive Spending Review contains an increased multi-year settlement to realise these ambitions — and is accompanied by the political leadership necessary to push this most pressing of human issues higher up the agenda.
2021’s Addictions Strategy likewise represents an excellent opportunity for the Government to set out a strategic vision of how drug and alcohol harms will be reduced and routes into recovery maximised. We’ll continue to do everything we can to push for a vision which has at its heart evidence driven approaches to addressing the most acute harm of all.
Some of Collective Voice’s member organisations have also responded to the sad news.
Oliver Standing, Director