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Fentanyl and cocaine deaths on the rise

But deaths related to new psychoactive substances, such as Spice, halved

Mark Gould

Tuesday, 07 August 2018

The number of people dying in England and Wales due to the synthetic opioid fentanyl rose by 29% in 2017, Office for National Statistics (ONS) data shows.

Forms of the drug - used to treat cancer pain - is often imported illegally from Chinese laboratories and sold to users via the dark web.

While statistics show that the rate of deaths from drug poisoning in England and Wales has remained steady – 66.1 deaths per 1 million people (3,756 deaths), there were 75 deaths involving fentanyl in 2017, up from 58 deaths in 2016.

The ONS report Deaths related to drug poisoning in England and Wales: 2017 registrations main findings, reveals that overall deaths rates were similar to 2016. Two-thirds of drug-related deaths were accidental, related to drug misuse, accounting for 43.7 deaths per 1 million in 2017.

Males’ mortality rate decreased from 91.4 deaths per 1 million population in 2016 to 89.6 in 2017, while the female rate increased for the eighth consecutive year to 42.9 deaths per 1 million population; neither changes were significant.

The report found that the North East had a significantly higher rate of deaths relating to drug-misuse than all other English regions; London had a significantly lower rate.

While deaths involving cocaine and fentanyl continued to rise, deaths related to new psychoactive substances (NPS) halved in 2017. There were 432 deaths related to cocaine in 2017, the highest ever recorded, compared with 371 deaths in 2016.

Deaths caused by NPS, such as the drug Spice, halved in 2017. There were 61 deaths from NPS in 2017, down from 123 in 2016. In 2016, the government introduced a blanket ban on the importation, production or supply of most NPS.

Fentanyl has been found mixed with street heroin, causing accidental overdose in users. The drug can be up to 100 times stronger than heroin and is sometimes prescribed as a painkiller for the terminally ill. One type of fentanyl, carfentanyl, is 10,000 times stronger and is used as an elephant tranquilliser. It was first seen mentioned in death certificates in 2017 and accounted for 27 deaths, 87% of the 31 deaths related to types of fentanyl in 2017.

Ellie Osborn, ONS health analysis statistician, said. “The figures published today show that the level of drug poisoning deaths in 2017 remained stable. However, despite deaths from most opiates declining or remaining steady, deaths from fentanyl continued to rise, as did cocaine deaths, which increased for the sixth consecutive year."

Ms Osborn said the ONS's new in-depth study of coroners’ records report shows that there are common characteristics of drug-related deaths and that these findings combined can be used to develop initiatives and policies that are targeted to support those at greatest risk of drug addiction.

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