The dangers of drug use are unlikely to be met with surprise by anyone. However, drug use is such a widespread problem in the UK, that it’s always worth mentioning and discussing.
Worrying figures show just how dangerous and widespread the problem is in the Birmingham area. There has been a rising number of drug deaths in Birmingham in recent years. This is according to data recently released by the Office for National Statistics.
Between 2016 and 2018, 252 drug-related deaths were recorded – the highest number since records began in 2001. These numbers have risen by a fifth, from 208 deaths between 2013 and 2015 – showing that the numbers are steadily rising.
Of the 252 drug deaths in Birmingham, 206 of them were deemed drug misuse – which means they only relate to illegal drugs. That’s 46 deaths related to drugs that are legally and perhaps easily accessible.
In terms of proportion, Birmingham saw 7.9 deaths per 100,000 people between 2016 and 2018 due to drug poisoning. This is a slightly higher rate than the average across England, which sits at 6.7 deaths per 100,000 people.
Rising number of deaths related to drug poisoning across the UK
Across the country, this rising number of deaths related to drug poisoning has been linked to heroin and morphine. However, there have been significant increases in deaths due to cocaine, ecstasy, and perhaps more surprisingly, prescription drugs and legal highs.
Looking at England and Wales, there was a total of 4,359 drug poisoning deaths just in 2018, an increase from 3,756 in 2017. Two-thirds of these deaths, 2,917 in total were due to illegal drug misuse.
Ben Humberstone, Deputy Director for Health Analysis and Life Events at Office for National Statistics said: “The number of deaths from drug use in 2018 was the highest since our records began in 1993. We have also seen the biggest year-on-year percentage increase.
“Previously, this had been linked to a rise in deaths related to opiates like heroin and morphine, but last year there were also increases in deaths across a wider variety of substances including cocaine and what had been known as ‘legal highs’.”
Big rises in the number of people dying have also been related to ecstasy, which is up 64% to 92 deaths. Cocaine-related deaths have risen by 48% to 637 deaths. Another worrying statistic is that the prescription epilepsy drug Gabapentin has been associated with 93 deaths, a rise of 55%.
While the most common drugs related to deaths were heroin and morphine, it’s hard to ignore the increase that seemingly coincided with the introduction of legal highs to the market.
The number of deaths relating to legal highs has doubled between 2017, at 61 and 2018, at 125 – 60 of which were due to synthetic cannabinoids like “Spice”. The numbers are still significantly lower than with other drugs, but it’s still a worrying trend.
Getting access to treatment for drug addiction
Chief executive for drug and alcohol charity Addaction, Mike Dixon said: “It’s a very tough day for families and those of us who work in drug treatment.
“We knew many of those who died and we remember them. The vast majority of these deaths are preventable. We already know what makes a difference to people who are struggling in the deepest end of life.”
Addaction has been calling for better quality treatment within the community and an investment in outreach services. This would help people in need, with better support and access to medication for opiate users such as the overdose reversal drug Naloxone.
The charity also highlights that more needs to be done to reach cocaine users, many of which don’t put themselves in the category of hitting “rock bottom”. Many people will only seek treatment once they’ve hit “rock bottom”, which cocaine users often don’t see themselves doing. Better information and advice for people who fall through the cracks in this way is a key aim for Addaction.
Drug deaths in the West Midlands area
In the larger West Midlands area, nearly 450 people have died as a result of drug use within the past three years.
Between 2015 and 2017, 469 deaths were recorded due to drug poisoning, this is up by 15% from 409 in 2012 to 2014.
The statistics seem to point to cocaine and fentanyl as the culprits causing the rise in drug-related deaths for drug users. Fentanyl is a powerful opioid drug that is sometimes mixed with heroin which can cause accidental overdoses.
106 deaths were recorded in 2017 as being caused by fentanyl or fentanyl analogues, compared to just 59 in 2016. The number of cocaine deaths also rose from 371 to 432 in the same period.
The link between heroin, morphine and fentanyl
There is a rising number of drug deaths in Birmingham relating to fentanyl.
As the deaths relating to fentanyl appear to be heroin-related also, Public Health England has issued a warning to drug users and health officials about the contamination of heroin with synthetic opiates like fentanyl.
Carfentanyl is another synthetic opiate that has been highlighted as dangerous and is more potent than fentanyl. This was first mentioned on death certificates in 2017, relating to 27 deaths or 87% of the deaths recorded related to fentanyl analogues in that year.
Do you need help with drug addiction?
If you or someone you care about needs help with their addiction, Rehab Clinics Group is there to help people get their lives back. We run a collection of addiction rehabilitation centres around the UK, helping thousands of drug users each year to overcome their addictions.
We offer treatments ranging from psychological therapies, well-being therapies and social activities that help those going through alcohol or drug addiction.