Drug-related deaths highest since records began

There were 4,359 deaths related to drug poisoning (overdose) in England and Wales in 2018, according to figures released today by The Office for National Statistics (ONS).

This is the highest number of drug poisoning deaths registered and the highest annual increase (16 per cent) since records began in 1993.

Two-thirds (2,917) of drug-related deaths were related to drug misuse, accounting for 50.9 deaths per million people in 2018. Male drug related deaths increased significantly from 89.6 per million males in 2017 to 105.4 in 2018, while the female rate increased for the ninth consecutive year to 47.5 per million females in 2018.

Between 2017 and 2018, there were increases in the number of deaths involving a wide range of substances, with deaths involving cocaine doubling between 2015 and 2018. Opiates, such as heroin and morphine, continued to be the most frequently mentioned type of drug, while the numbers involving new psychoactive substances (NPS) returned to their previous levels after halving in 2017.

While the rate increased across England and Wales there were regional variations, with the North East reporting a significantly higher rate of deaths related to drug misuse than all other English regions, and London reporting the lowest rate.

Read reactions from the sector

Niamh Eastwood - Executive Director of Release
Niamh Eastwood – Executive Director of Release

‘People are dying and government inaction is contributing to these deaths. For the last 7 years we have seen drug-related deaths increase year on year and every year we have called on the Government to take action, to scale up funding for drug treatment, to support overdose prevention sites, to fund drug checking facilities, and to expand heroin assisted treatment. Each year they have ignored us, continuing to do the same whilst people die – if the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister continue to ignore these calls then they will continue to be responsible for the deaths of thousands of people every year.’


Kevin Flemen from KFX drug consultancy
Kevin Flemen from KFX drug consultancy

‘More than half the deaths where MDMA was mentioned didn’t feature another drug and very few mentioned alcohol. In comparison only 4 of the deaths mentioning Pregabalin didn’t involve another drug, highlighting the risks of mixing this drug especially with opiates.’





These figures continue to reinforce our members’ concerns around the literal state of the nation when it comes to the continual erosion of drug and alcohol treatment services across England and Wales. Read the full response here.

Viv Evans - CEO of Adfam
Viv Evans – CEO of Adfam

‘We mustn’t forget the catastrophic effects of these unfortunate deaths on the bereaved families, who often suffer overwhelming broader impacts for many years as a result of their loved one’s drug use. Bereavement from a drug-related death raises a unique set of complex emotional and practical problems, including damage to family relationships, feelings of blame and guilt, trauma, physical and mental ill-health, stigma, and shame.’


Professor Alex Stevens
Professor Alex Stevens

The most important thing is to maintain investment in OST – we need to  follow the evidence. Hear Professor Alex Stevens on the Today programme (starts at 46min).





Transform Drug Policy ‘These deaths are an avoidable tragedy – and each one represents a brother, sister, parent or friend who has left loved ones behind. After six years of record deaths, the Government must act, with a clear focus on keeping people alive. Current policy is not protecting people or their communities; instead it is blocking measures we know can save lives, while decimating treatment funding.’ Read the full response here.



‘These harrowing statistics outline the urgent need for investment in frontline services so that deaths can be prevented among users not currently accessing treatment. Reductions in funding must be reversed in order to allow lifesaving interventions which have been significantly reduced in scope, such as user outreach and needle exchanges, to meet demand. Humankind is also calling for the opioid overdose reverser naloxone to be made readily available across England, in line with World Health Organisation and Public Health England recommendations.’




More reaction to come….

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