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Alcohol & Other Drugs, News & Media

Cranstoun Response to England & Wales Drug Deaths in 2022

Posted on: 19 December, 2023

Today the Office for National Statistics have released the drug related death statistics for England and Wales for the year 2022. The figures show that 4,907 people tragically died during the year, meaning that this is the tenth consecutive year on record that drug related deaths in England and Wales have been on the rise. 

When these figures are released, we must always remember that these 4,907 people had families, friends and loved ones who were left behind. It is a stark reminder that we must do more to support people, innovate at the way we work with people who use drugs so we can reduce harm to save and rebuild lives. 

Drug related deaths have risen by more than 80% over the past decade in comparison to 2012. These figures show that the North East of England remains the part of England & Wales with the highest rate of drug related deaths. 

Males account for nearly two-thirds of registered drug related deaths, however we are concerned about the continual increase in mortality rates of “drug poisoning” for females since 2009 and “misuse” since 2012. 

Mortality rates caused by “drug poisoning” and drug “misuse” decreased for males and increased for females in 2022. There are considerable barriers including stigma experienced by women when they use drugs or when they access support and treatment services, and improvement is very much needed to ensure women have equality of access to adequate and appropriate support for drug use.  

Deaths relating to opiates rose by 1.9%, meaning that 2,261 people died following opiate use last year. Around half of all deaths in England and Wales are related to opiates. This remains a stark comparison to Scotland where 82% of deaths related to opiates. 

The worrying trend around deaths relating to cocaine continue to rise, and deaths relating to cocaine have risen by more than five times over the past decade to 857.  

There is extreme concern among the drug and alcohol support sector that, given the increased prevalence of synthetic opioids which are significantly stronger than street heroin (somewhere between 50-300 X), a much sharper rise in deaths may be around the corner.  

Synthetic opioids such as nitazenes have appeared across the UK with clusters of overdoses also appearing. In August, Cranstoun published an 8 point plan to mitigate this potential public health emergency, and without immediate action, policy makers are sleepwalking into a crisis.  

This emerging threat is compounded by the ability of treatment providers to respond quickly to real-time data, given delays to the release of essential information. Ordinarily, data related to the number of drug deaths for the previous year is released in August, a delay of just 8 months, however this release was delayed until the final fortnight of the year which marks a delay of 12 months.  

A decade of consecutive increases in drug deaths in England in Wales is a shocking indictment of the need for policymakers in the country to embrace world-class best practice and embrace evidence over ideology.  

The Home Affairs Select Committee recently published a report on drugs which recommends a number of harm reduction interventions including piloting overdose prevention centres, a national drug checking centre, further use of diamorphine assisted treatment and more innovative use of diversion schemes. 

In addition, funding streams must be made available to enable additional opportunities to engage those that providers are not currently reaching, or who do not regularly attend appointments, but who might benefit from support. Innovative outreach in the community should also be adequately funded to ensure that overdose reversal training is delivered to those most at risk, and overdose medication and training for naloxone is delivered. 

Lastly, as well as national policy change, Cranstoun believes we can reduce deaths by continuing to innovate through schemes such as overdose-prevention app BuddyUp, our exploration and research of overdose awareness technology, the distribution of thousands of naloxone pouches, Enhanced Overdose Response training, a Drug Intelligence reporting system for staff, and world-class training to each staff member working with someone who uses our services. 

Cranstoun strongly urges both the UK Government and the Welsh Parliament to act quickly to implement measures that are proven to work. We must put an end to the unnecessary suffering of thousands each year. 

Charlie Mack, Chief Executive at Cranstoun said: “For more than a decade we have now seen drug related deaths rise right across the UK. Today’s figures released for England and Wales show once again that more must be done to provide support for people who use drugs. 

“We have continued to call on the Government to support the introduction of initiatives which have been proven to save lives and reduce harm. 

“Since these figures were released, 2023 has seen a very worrying trend with the rise in deaths relating to synthetic opioids, namely nitazenes. These can be hundreds of times stronger than heroin and we know have led to a rising number of deaths across the country. 

“More must be done to address this and we urge the government to once again look at ways to introduce a whole-system approach to reducing drug related deaths. 

“We fully support the recommendations of the cross-party Home Affairs Select Committee report from earlier this year and the government should look to implement these measures with haste. 

“This includes proper drug checking services, overdose prevention centres and expanding diamorphine assisted treatment. We must continue to look at the evidence from across the globe about what works elsewhere and seek to introduce these measures here. 

“If we fail to do this, we fear that drug-related deaths will continue to rise, and more families and communities will be torn apart due to preventable overdoses.”  


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