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Drug-related deaths reach record levels in UK

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
The number of drug-related deaths in England and Wales reached record levels last year, figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show.

The number of drug-related deaths in the UK reached record levels last year, new official figures show, sparking fierce criticism of the government’s drug policy.

Overall, 3,674 drug poisoning deaths involving legal and illegal substances were registered in 2015, up from 3,346 in 2014, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported Friday.

The ONS also found that fatalities involving heroin and cocaine were both at their highest since comparable records began in 1993.

"Since cocaine is often taken alongside heroin, it is likely that changes in the purity and availability of heroin, as well as increases in the purity of cocaine, are contributing to the rise in deaths involving cocaine in recent years,” the ONS report said.

The ONS figures show that the fatality rate from misuse of drugs is now at the highest level ever recorded, at 43.8 deaths per million people. 

"Deaths involving heroin and morphine have more than doubled since 2012, partly driven by a rise in heroin purity and availability over the last three years,” said ONS researcher Vanessa Fearn.

"Age is also a factor in the record levels of drug deaths, as heroin users are getting older and they often have other conditions, such as lung disease and hepatitis, that make them particularly vulnerable," she said.

Even before the new figures were revealed, Britain had a drug-related fatality rate nearly three times larger than the European average.

The record death toll has led to British Prime Minister Theresa May facing an onslaught of condemnation over the policies she pursued while Home Secretary.

“The Home Office’s pursuit of a ‘tough on drugs’ strategy and refusal to acknowledge the evidence for best practice in drug treatment is quite literally killing people,” said Niamh Eastwood, the executive director of Release, the oldest independent drugs charity in the UK.

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