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Tagged In:  Drugs

Taking a look at the recently published Public Health England (PHE) report on drug-related deaths in England between 1999 and 2014, the statistics are quite worrying. 

Many will recall the death of Peaches Geldof, who was found in her home in Wrotham at the age of 25 after a heroin overdose. But, what the general public are less aware of is that Peaches was among 952 registered opiate related deaths in England during 2014.
Despite relentless support from substance misuse professionals across England and the stricter regulations of policing, the number of drug-related deaths are on the rise, with a 17% increase in fatalities between 2013 and 2014 in England.

A deadly cocktail of drugs

Unsurprisingly, the majority of drug-related deaths in this 15 year period include the mention of an opiate, reaching a high of 81% of all drug misuse deaths in 2012. Heroin is the most frequently used deadly substance, and although the number of death toll involving this synthetic morphine decreased to 530 in 2011, it began to rapidly increase once again with an estimated 769 deaths in 2013. 

As our substance misuse candidates will no doubt say, although heroin is lethal on its own, cocktails and combinations of drugs are now more commonplace. Since 2008, more people have died by mixing heroin with alcohol, than just heroin. The deadly cocktail has seen a gradual growth from 28% of all opiate deaths in 1999 to an astonishing 45%. 

With the exception of opiates and alcohol, benzodiazepines are the most frequently mentioned in drug misuse deaths, with 301 deaths in 2013. The likes of Vallium or Xanex amongst others, are commonly used to treat panic attacks. There are other anti-depressants and sedatives which have been mentioned throughout the last 15 years, but none which are as prevalent as benzodiazepines. 

Despite nearly reaching a high of 250 deaths in 2007, cocaine has not been mentioned as much as we might think, as it plummeted to approximately 105 deaths in 2010. Sadly, deaths mentioning cocaine and other stimulants such as amphetamines have been on the rise since then, reaching up to 180 deaths in 2013. 

Legal highs have been in recent news after being made illegal. New psychoactive substances (NPS) were non-existent in 1999, but have gradually grown problematic, killing 65 in 2012 alone. 

Who and where? 

The average age of the victims of drug misuse deaths has seen a considerable change in 15 years. In 1999, the majority of victims were 25-34 years of age, with over 600 victims of this description. Compare this to 35-44 year olds, who had fewer than 400 victims. Now though, the tables have turned; more 35-44 year olds have fallen victim to drug misuse deaths than any of the other age groups in recent years, peaking at just shy of 700 deaths in 2009. The average age of the victim shifted from 32 to 41 in this time. 

This will not be too surprising to our candidates working in substance misuse, but most victims are male (72% in 2012), and the number of deaths has been fairly consistent over the last 15 years. Although we see less female deaths, the number of victims has dramatically increased, with an estimated 66% rise from 1999 to 2013. 

Geographically the North of England has seen the biggest increase in drug-related deaths between 2013 and 2014, with North East figures rising by 31%. Despite decreases in the rural areas of Yorkshire and the East Midlands (of -7% and -1% respectively), London is the only region of England considerably below the nations average.

What next? 

Following the publication of the results, the PHE will be considering additional support to local authorities and drug treatment providers. They will try and improve the accessibility of treatment, and continue to give advice to commissioners with regards to the provision of naloxone (which reverses the effects of opiates), potentially offering more clarity to nurses specialising in substance misuse. 

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