THE latest data from the Office for National Statistics reveals that there were 4,907 drug-related deaths registered in 2022 in England and Wales, an increase from the 4,859 deaths registered in 2021. Once again, this is the highest on record. Of these deaths 3,127 were related to ‘drug misuse’ in that they involved drugs controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

Release, a national centre of expertise on drugs and drugs law, says the circumstances for people using drugs is only set to get worse in 2024, as the consequences of the suppression of Afghan opium production is felt across European drug markets. Synthetic opioids, namely nitazenes which can be as strong or stronger than fentanyl, are increasingly likely to contaminate the heroin supply.

Release says this trend will not change unless the UK takes immediate action to decriminalise people who use drugs, reduce barriers for people looking for treatment, and begin to fund public health interventions rather than simply arresting people.

Release’s Executive Director, Niamh Eastwood, says: “For the last 11 years drug related deaths have continued to rise year on year, every death is someone’s loved one.

“Drug policy in the UK is simply not fit for purpose. Over the last decade, we have spent billions on law enforcement whilst at the same time the Government defunded treatment and harm reduction programmes; recent increased funding is welcomed, but honestly it is too little too late.

“The UK Government has refused, and continues to refuse, to support life saving measures such as overdose prevention centres, or to scale up drug checking so we know what is in the ever increasing toxic drugs supply. It continues to criminalise people who use drugs, deterring them from seeking the support they need. Countries in Europe that have ended criminal sanctions for drug possession offences have much lower rates of death than the UK.

“The figures this year are once again record breaking, and with the arrival of synthetic opioids in the drug supply chain this crisis is set to become catastrophic. This is a public health emergency and we need action now or more needless and preventable deaths will occur.”

* Read Deaths related to drug poisoning in England and Wales: 2022 registrations here.

* Source: Release