Lockdown Surge in Cocaine and Opiate Abuse Behind Rising UK Drug Deaths

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Around half the nearly-5,000 drug deaths in England and Wales in 2021 were caused opium-based narcotics like heroin. But the largest increase was in cocaine-related deaths, which had risen seven-fold over the preceding decade from 112 in a year to 840.
Substance-abuse charities have warned that cocaine and opiate abuse is causing a new high in drug-related deaths in England and Wales.
New data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that 4,859 people died from drug toxicity in the UK's largest jurisdiction in 2021.
Those deaths include fatalities among addicts, suicides, accidental overdoses and other poisonings involve both illegal narcotics and legal prescription and over-the-counter medicines.
That represented a 6.2 percent increase on 2020, the ninth annual rise in a row and the highest since national statistics were first recorded in 1993.
Of those deaths, 3,060 were as a result of drug abuse, while men made up more than two-thirds of the victims. Around half the fatalities, 2,219 cases, were from opium-based drugs like heroin.
But the largest increase was in cocaine-related deaths, which had risen seven-fold over the preceding decade from 112 in a year to 840.
Addiction NGO Change Grow Live chief executive Mark Moody said the "only reasonable response to today’s statistics is to redouble our efforts to stop more people losing their lives to drugs" and called on the government to address the problem in its forthcoming policy review.
"The government’s new drug strategy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to change things for the better, and Change Grow Live will work with partners, policymakers and the people who use out services to make sure that happens," Moody said.
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Mental health charity Turning Point's medical director for substance abuse David Bremner, said the figures reflected the effect the COVID-19 had had on "vulnerable" groups.
"The pandemic exacerbated an existing public health crisis; however, we are clear that drug deaths are preventable," Bremner said. "At a time of political uncertainty, these new statistics provide a loud and clear call, whatever your political allegiances. The government’s 10-year drug strategy announced at the end of last year and additional funding coming into services is helping to turn the tide but there is a way to go".
The NGO director called for "sustained and coordinated action across health including mental health, housing and social care services in order to reduce the harm caused by drugs to individuals, families and communities," urging the government to "Continue to invest in these life-saving services".
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