Drug deaths soar to an all-time high, with cocaine fatalities up 80-FOLD since UK records began in 1993 due to ever-growing rise of ‘silver snorters’

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Drug deaths in England and Wales have reached an all-time high, partly driven by a troubling rise of ‘silver snorters’.

Official data released today reveal there were 4,907 drug poisoning deaths in 2022 – a rate of 84.4 deaths per million people. This is the tenth consecutive annual rise, up on the 4,859 recorded in 2021 and the most since records began in 1993. 

Cocaine also killed a record number of people last year, with deaths having soared 80-fold over the last three decades. 

It comes amid a huge explosion in the number of middle-aged Brits using the party drug. Dealers capitalising on its popularity promise to deliver within 30 minutes. 

Figures also showed a spike in deaths related to common prescription sleeping pills and fentanyl, a painkiller fuelling the US opioid crisis. 

Deaths from cocaine hit 857 last year, up on the 840 logged in 2021 and a five-fold increase on the 169 a decade ago. 

More than a fifth (21.4 per cent) of all cocaine-related deaths were among the over-50s, the highest proportion ever recorded. Two victims were over the age of 70.

Britain, now considered the cocaine capital of Europe, is believed to snort around 117 tonnes of the substance per year, with the market for the illegal drug estimated to be worth more than £25.7million a day. 

Last year, under plans to tackle the ‘the scourge of substance abuse in society’, the Home Office proposed escalating tougher penalties for recreational drug users, including having their passports seized. 

In March 2021, then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson was also said to be planning a PR blitz campaign of adverts targeted at middle-class drug users aiming to make cocaine as socially unacceptable as drink-driving.

The ONS’s figures cover drug abuse and dependence, fatal accidents, suicides and complications involving controlled and non-controlled drugs, prescription and over-the-counter medications.

As with data for all years, around half of the fatalities registered in 2022 will have actually occurred in previous years due to delays in registering deaths.

Men accounted for almost two thirds of registered drug poisonings (3,240 compared with 1,667 female deaths).

Howver, the figure fell on the 3,275 logged last year, while it rose again among women. 

Of the deaths registered last year, 3,859 were due to accidental poisoning while there were 913 instances of intentional self-poisoning.

There were 131 deaths arising from mental and behavioural disorders as a result of drug use, a 10 per cent rise on the previous year which logged 119. 

Some four deaths following assault by drugs, medicaments and biological substances were also recorded.

Almost two thirds (3,127) of the total deaths were related to drug misuse.

Rates were particularly high among people in Generation X, who were born who were born between the late 60s and early 80s and are now in their 40s and 50s.

This so-called ‘Trainspotting generation’, named after the novel-turned film starring Ewan McGregor that highlighted drug use in Edinburgh among teens and young adults in the 1980s and 1990s, had the highest death rate of all groups in England and Wales in 2022. 

The average age of death for drug misuse deaths in 2022 was 44.5 years among men and 46.5 for women. 

While average age has stayed consistent among women since 1993, this has steadily risen for men from the late 1990s. 

Ian Hamilton, associate professor of addiction at the University of York, told MailOnline that the over-40s are often at greater risk due to ‘poor physical and psychological health’ which can make them vulnerable to accidental or deliberate overdoses. 

He said: ‘They often have complicating factors such as poor respiratory health [and], given the way that opiates can suppress respiratory function, this increases the risk of death. 

‘Equally this group can have heart problems which are not helped by regular drug use. They are also less likely to access health services which could help provide treatment and reduce the risk of premature death.’

 

By substance, opiates continued to account for the majority of drug poisoning deaths, at almost half. 

Heroin and morphine were also the most frequently recorded opiates on death certificates, with 1,256 deaths mentioning one of the substances in 2022. 

ONS statisticians said this long term trend possibly reflects long-term heroin and morphine users becoming increasingly at risk of a fatal overdose. 

Trends of mixing opiates with other drugs, which can increase the risk of an overdose, could also partly explain the rise.

Addictive prescription drugs such as benzodiazepines — which include Xanax and Valium — are increasingly seen alongside heroin and other opiates, they noted. 

Deaths involving benzodiazepines (509) dropped slightly on the previous year (538). But it is still almost double the figure logged when records began in 1993 (278). 

Recent reports have suggested drugs including benzodiazepines and opiates may have become more potent, Professor Hamilton told MailOnline.

‘Even for those who are regular users of these drugs, this can prove to be fatal as they use their usual amount but don’t realise until its too late how strong these batches of drugs are,’ he added. 

‘Likewise, naive users can be caught out by the higher strength drugs and risk accidental overdose as a consequence.’

Lee Fernandes, from the UK Addiction Treatment Group, said the ONS figures show that people who have been addicted to drugs for many years ‘are now also experimenting with taking other substances’ which can make a user ‘increasingly susceptible to a fatal overdose’.

He added that such deaths are ‘unnecessary’ and could be prevented ‘with the right kind of help, empathy and professional support’.

The figures also revealed that fatalities linked to common sleeping pills zolpidem and zopiclone rose sharply (37 per cent) on the previous year, five times the figure logged in 2003.

Zolpidem prescriptions this year hit the highest level since records began in 2018 — with 58,000 doses dished out in March. 

In September, experts warned MailOnline that record prescription levels for the drug could even be due to misuse by Brits wanting wild sex.

Men accounted for almost two thirds of registered drug poisonings (3,240 compared with 1,667 female deaths), but the figure fell on the 3,275 logged last year, while it rose again among women

By substance, opiates continued to account for the majority of drug poisoning deaths, at almost half. Heroin and morphine were also the most frequently recorded opiates on death certificates, with 1,256 deaths mentioning one of the substances in 2022

By substance, opiates continued to account for the majority of drug poisoning deaths, at almost half. Heroin and morphine were also the most frequently recorded opiates on death certificates, with 1,256 deaths mentioning one of the substances in 2022

For years, Z-drugs like zolpidem, better known by its brand name Ambien, have been touted as a user-friendly alternative to older and notoriously addictive tranquillisers.

But up to one in 100 users of the drug will experience strange ‘sleep-related behaviours’ like sleepwalking or having sex without being fully aware, it is estimated.

Deaths from paracetamol (261) also rose 15 per cent on 2021 (227). 

Meanwhile, drug poisoning deaths from ecstasy slumped to its lowest level since 2014, the figures showed. 

Some 51 deaths related to the drug, also known as MDMA, were logged in 2022, down more than a fifth on the previous year (67). 

ONS experts did not explain what was behind the drop.  

There was also a geographic divide in drug deaths in England and Wales, with people in the North East (133.9 deaths per million) almost three times more likely to die from drug poisoning than people in London (56.6 deaths per million). 

The East of England had the lowest rate for drug misuse (37.2 per million).

Among the deaths recorded, the North West logged the highest figure with 905 and Wales, the lowest at 318. 

It comes as the UK’s first drug consumption room could open by next summer under plans backed by the Scottish government as a way to tackle its own drugs deaths crisis. 

In September, authorities in Glasgow announced the pilot scheme would be based at a health centre in the east end of the city.  

The UK Government has said it is not in favour of drug consumption rooms. But despite the Misuse of Drugs Act being reserved to Westminster, the Home Office has indicated it will not stand in the way of the pilot scheme in Scotland.

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