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6 January 2022

How drug deaths in England have reached a record high

There were 4,561 deaths related to drug poisoning in 2020.

By Polly Bindman

Drug-related deaths in England and Wales are at a record high, official figures reveal.

The latest ONS data reveals there were 4,561 deaths related to drug poisoning registered in England and Wales in 2020 – a 3.8 per cent increase on the previous year.

In 2020, the drug-related death rate for men was roughly double that for women, and the highest concentration of deaths occurred in north-east England, where there were 104.6 deaths per million people, compared with just 33.1 in London. 


The sharp rise in deaths from 2012 appears to corroborate recent research from LSE highlighting the link between opioid-related deaths in England and austerity. Deaths are highest in areas that experienced the worst cuts to social care and housing services. Despite having one of the highest drug-related death rates in Europe, the UK, unlike other countries such as Germany, where the new government has pledged to legalise cannabis, shows no sign of reforming its drug laws.

In response to the London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s plans to trial effective decriminalisation of cannabis for 18-24-year-olds caught in possession of the drug in three London boroughs, Keir Starmer confirmed his opposition to reform. In a speech on Tuesday 4 January, the Labour leader vowed to crack down on drug dens with new powers for local police and authorities. 

A spokesperson for Boris Johnson also confirmed the government’s position: “We have absolutely no intention of decriminalising dangerous and harmful substances for recreational use.”

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