The Government’s policy of dealing with drug and alcohol addiction was hit with fresh criticism this week. Why? Because official figures reveal drug-related deaths have hit record levels in both England and Wales, despite figures of drug use being lower than previous years.
These figures counted coroners’ ruling during the year 2015.
These deaths involved the consumption of drugs such as cocaine, opiates and amphetamines, as well as overdoses when legal prescription drugs were consumed.
Critics particularly stress the Government’s failure to effectively treat an ageing population of opiate addicts. Many of these people suffer from lung disease and hepatitis, so it’s essential these people receive care in order to combat these conditions.
These figures are likely a source of frustration for the Government. Why? Because the number of people actively taking illegal drugs is thought to be at historic lows. Such figures are published by way of ‘crime survey’ data.
Critics also point the finger at the UK’s ‘war on drugs’ and a corresponding cut to the budget of charities offering addiction treatment.
How many people died from a drug overdose in 2015? You will certainly be surprised to learn that a massive 3,674 people lost their lives in 2015 due to a drug overdose.
Out of these 3,674 deaths, a massive 2,479 died whilst taking illegal drugs. This represents a 10% increase on 2014’s figures.
This is the highest number of drug-related deaths on record for both England and Wales.
The figures translate into 43.8 deaths per million people. However, this figure is averaged over all age groups. People aged between 30 to 39 were most at risk of overdosing from drugs at a rate of 98.4 deaths per million people.
Even more shocking, Office of National Statistics says deaths linked to heroin have more than doubled since 2012. In 2012, 579 people die due to heroin overdoses alone. This figure was 1,201 in 2015.
The picture is just as bleak for cocaine users. In 2012, 112 people lost their lives due to overdosing on cocaine. This figure shot up to 320 deaths during 2015.
Since 2012, amphetamine-related deaths have more than tripled. In 2012, 56 people lost their lives due to overdosing on drugs such as MDMA. In 2015, this figure shot up to 157 deaths.
These figures make grim reading for Government officials who are responsible for decreasing drug-related deaths. The UK now has a rate of drug-related mortality that’s almost 300% greater than the rest of Europe.
Some experts defend the Government, saying this increase is due to an increase in the purity of heroin now available on our streets. This, they say, is compounded by the fact that a global shortage of heroin hit the UK streets during 2011. They say this means the current figures are somewhat skewed.
The Government’s defence regarding purity can also be applied to other illegal substances. During the past few years, the purity of cocaine found on the streets has also increased.
Another report published by Public Health England and the Local Government Association says the Government must consider overhauling the way it currently tackles drug addiction. The report particularly stresses the health inequalities that exist in England and Wales today.
The report also criticises the Government because many people experience difficulties when trying to access free or affordable health care designed to treat addiction. And the ongoing stigma associated with admitting they have an addiction and want to access addiction treatment.
Another source of criticism is the Government’s unwillingness to invest in ‘drug consumption rooms’ that are commonplace in many different countries around the world.
But what are ‘drug consumption rooms’? They are locations where illegal drugs can be used under the supervision of medically trained staff, should the user overdose or any other negative reaction. These locations also have equipment available to test the purity and contents of the substance the user comes to the drug consumption room with.
There have been many benefits of drug consumption rooms. Including a vast decrease in overdoses as medical assistance can be administered as soon as am issue arises.
Another benefit noted by the workers at these locations is it allows addiction workers to reach otherwise hard to reach addicts. This has led to many more people accessing addiction treatment. Thus allowing multiple agencies to work together in helping addicts get off the streets.
These benefits have been acknowledged by most European and North American countries. And they have opened drug consumption rooms with great success.
In 2013, the then coalition Government exposed addiction services to austerity measures. But how? The Government achieve this by devolving addiction treatment services from the NHS to local councils. Meaning local areas could choose how and when addiction treatment would be made available to addiction sufferers in their areas.
However, unlike the NHS, local councils are not legally required to provide this treatment.
Over the next four years, the Government is requiring local authorities to cut their health budget by 9%, so expect things to get a lot worse before they get better.
These cuts effectively mean the most vulnerable of drug users are getting little to no help whatsoever. Many of these people will feel stigmatised as a result of this situation.
Some believe decriminalising all illegal drugs could go some way to reversing these fortunes. Others urge Teresa May to act, given the rise in drug deaths occurred under her watch as head of the Home Office.
Others criticise the Government for reducing opioid substitution therapy due to the Government’s ‘ideological’ insistence on abstinence.
Opioid substitution therapy is a ‘harm reduction initiative’ offering those addicted to any form of opioid a prescribed alternative. Usually, this will be methadone or buprenorphine which is swallowed, not injected. It can also be reduced in dosage overtime allowing people to slowly beat their addiction. Without the risk of a sudden detox.
In 2005 the World Health Organisation included methadone and buprenorphine to its Model List of Essential Drugs.