The number of people dying after taking fentanyl – a powerful opioid used medically to treat pain in cancer patients – has spiked by almost a third, new data reveals.
There was 75 deaths fentanyl-related deaths recorded in 2017, figures released by the Office for National Statistics on Monday showed, as well as a considerable jump in the number of cocaine deaths, with 432 fatalities recorded in relation to the Class A drug in 2017, compared to 371 in 2016.
It is the sixth year in a row that cocaine deaths have increased, with cocaine thought to be the second most commonly-used drug after cannabis.
A geographical discrepancy in number of deaths was also revealed. People living in the north-east of England are shown to be more than three times as likely to die from drug misuse as those in the capital.
There were 83.2 deaths per 1 million people in the north-east in 2017 because of drug abuse or dependence, compared to just 24.6 per 1 million in London.
The insights came as it was revealed that there were 3,756 deaths from drug poisoning last year, with more than two-thirds caused by drug misuse. The total number of deaths represents a slight increase on 2016, when there were 3,744 deaths.
Martin Powell, head of campaigns at the charity Transform Drug Policy Foundation, said the government has “nowhere left to hide” when it comes to drug deaths, calling on ministers to stop criminalising drug users and instead fully fund drug treatment.
“They are responsible for vulnerable people dying in droves because they are blocking, or refusing to fund, measures proven to save lives in other countries,” he said.
“No-one has ever died from an overdose in a supervised drug consumption room or heroin prescribing clinic, anywhere,” Powell continued.
“In Portugal – where drug use is decriminalised – the drug death rate is less than a tenth of ours.”
During 2017, the number of people dying from so-called “legal highs” dropped by more than a half from 123 in 2016 to 61. It comes after the government introduced the Psychoactive Substances Act in 2016, which set out a blanket ban.
A government spokesperson said:“Any death related to misuse of drugs is a tragedy. We want everyone across the country to get the help, treatment and support they need to live a drug-free life and we are funding local authorities £16 billion over the current spending period to deliver these and other public health services.”
“Our Drug Strategy 2017 brings together police, health, community and global partners to tackle the illicit drug trade, protect the most vulnerable and help those with a drug dependency to recover and turn their lives around.”