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Expert Reaction: Record number of drug-related deaths

Posted on 2 August 2017

The number of drug poisoning deaths reached record levels in England and Wales last year, official data shows. York academic Ian Hamilton looks at the possible reasons behind the figures.

Deaths involving cocaine rose by 16 per cent to 371, while overall there were 3,744 deaths from legal and illegal drugs. 

Ian Hamilton, an expert in mental health at the University of York's Department of Health Sciences,  said: "Today's report on drug-related deaths shows that last year was the highest number of drug-related deaths since records began in 1993. More than half of these deaths are due to opiates such as heroin.
"So while current media attention has turned to synthetic opiates such as fentanyl these account for only 1.5 per cent of all such deaths. Meanwhile opiates such as heroin account for 32 per cent.
"It is clear that we have a problem with fentanyl but what is not clear is the extent of the problem. Many people who use heroin will not be 'choosing' to use fentanyl, it may be the only drug they are offered at times.
"This presents a particular risk to this group as they will not have the knowledge or experience of how to titrate the dose, as recent mortality data shows some are paying with their lives.
"Many of these fatal overdoses could be avoided if the Government supported the introduction of Drug Consumption Rooms, international evidence shows that these facilities reduce overdoses and engage people in treatment.
"The Government had the opportunity to give its support to such an initiative in its recently published drug strategy but failed to do so, it's not too late to reverse that decision."
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