UK’s drugs nightmare as deaths reach record levels in ‘parallel pandemic’

There were 4,561 deaths related to drug poisoning last year – the highest number since records began in 1993, the Office for National Statistics said.

Some 777 deaths involved cocaine – a 9.7 percent rise from 2019 and more than five times higher than the 144 cocaine-related deaths registered in 2010.

Eytan Alexander, a recovering drug-addict and CEO for the drug addiction treatment experts UKAT, warned the drug is “as easy to order as a Deliveroo”.

It is the ninth consecutive annual rise in deaths linked to cocaine use.

Statisticians also warned more people are dying from a deadly cocktail of drugs, with benzodiazepines being taken alongside heroin to “enhance the effect”.

Of the 796 deaths due to taking pregabalin, gabapentin zopiclone, 744 all had another drug in their system at the time of their death.

Statisticians added: The rise in deaths involving cocaine is likely to be a direct consequence of the increasing prevalence in cocaine use. This increase in cocaine use is also seen across Europe.

“Both cocaine and heroin have been reported to have high availability in recent years, with low prices and high purity levels.”

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said ministers would “look closely” at the recommendations from Dame Carol Black, who called for an extra £552m investment over five years in England.

The government said it would set up a new cross-government unit on tackling drug misuse.

Eytan Alexander, recovering drug-addict and CEO for the drug addiction treatment experts UKAT, said: “It’s saddening but unsurprising to see that the number of drug poisoning deaths has increased yet again, and especially unsurprising to see such a rise in cocaine-related deaths last year given that it is so readily available and as easy to order as a Deliveroo.

“Like in 2019, in 2020 the vast majority – two thirds – of deaths were related to drug misuse, meaning that the underlying cause of death was drug dependence.

“These people are the ones that have been suffering with a drug addiction and have been ignored for too long.

“We must remember that today’s report is about mothers, fathers, grandparents, neighbours and friends who have died because of drugs. They have lost their lives in a year where everything other than the pandemic was swept to one side and put on hold.

“We’re living in a parallel pandemic; a drug, alcohol and mental health pandemic that has only worsened due to the virus.

“Enough is enough now, we need to come together as a society and take real action to help vulnerable people before more people lose their lives.”

The latest figures, which are published annually, show stark differences between men and women, and among different regions.

There were more than twice as many deaths among men as there were among women.

The highest rate of deaths relating to drug misuse was in the North East of England, where 104.6 deaths were recorded per million people, and the lowest was in London, where that figure was 33.1.

Jon Murray, executive director of services in England at the charity With You, said it is no surprise that deaths were highest in the most deprived areas.

He said: “Issues such as rising homelessness, poor mental health and a lack of economic opportunities all lead to people using drugs, and for many, these challenges have become worse due to the pandemic.

“Too many people who need treatment aren’t accessing it, and too many people are unaware of the potential harms of their drug use.”


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