Quote: "In December of 2012, David Cameron dismissed a detailed report calling for a fundamental review of our clapped-out drug laws. They were not humane and they were not helping, the study said. However, the prime minister decided to brush away this information; after all, it was only a year's worth of research conducted by experts and compiled into an exhaustive, compelling report. "We have a policy which actually is working in Britain: drug use is coming down," Cameron said in response.
Three years later, that boast has been shown up for the
wafer-thin bit of chancery it was. Drug use is going up (the opposite of
"coming down", as Cameron should remember from his days in PR). Far
worse, drug deaths are reaching record levels.
Government figures released last week
revealed there were 3,346 drug-related deaths recorded in England and
Wales in 2014 – around double the number of annual road traffic
fatalities, and the highest since records began in 1983. This wasn't
about the much-hyped deaths from legal highs and ecstasy, of which there
were just over 100. The death toll was largely fuelled by a rise in
Despite big falls in the number of heroin users since the epidemic of the 1990s, as well as the expanded use of anti-overdose drugs like naloxone,
heroin was implicated in 952 deaths last year, a two-thirds jump from
579 in 2012. Deaths involving cocaine, speed and prescription drugs also
increased, although more than half of the cocaine deaths involved crack
cocaine, a drug commonly used alongside heroin.
So what's behind this surprise surge in drug deaths? The view from
the experts – the government researchers, the frontline drug workers and
the academics – is that there are several contributing factors at play
Only one in seven of those dying of a heroin overdose in 2014
were aged under 30. More than half were over 40. Heroin is cutting more
people down simply because they are getting older, their bodies weaker.
They are the long-term users, people who started taking the drug in
their late teens or twenties during the upsurge in heroin use during the
1990s, and who have underlying health problems cased by years of
addiction. As time goes on, inevitably, this ageing cohort of heroin
users grows more vulnerable to "going over" and never getting up again.
As the government itself suggests, increased purity of both
heroin and cocaine due to falling wholesale prices over the last few
years has also had a hand in the new wave of heroin and crack deaths.
The purer and stronger a drug is, the more likely people will overdose, especially if their tolerance is lowered by heavily cut deals.
However, this does not account for the fact that deaths are now
far more common than they were when cocaine and heroin were generally
much more potent, throughout the 2000s. After plummeting to lows of 13
percent during the big UK heroin drought of 2010, heroin purity is now
at an average of 36 percent. However, for most of the 2000s, purity –
while also subject to potentially lethal fluctuations – averaged 56
Questions have been raised about whether changes to the way
people are medically treated for drug addiction – with an increased
emphasis on getting patients off methadone and out of treatment – may
have resulted in more deaths. But the evidence for this is not there to
These theories are fine, but there can be little doubt about what
the root cause of these deaths is. There's an underlying factor that
perhaps far outweighs any of those mentioned above. Something far more
fundamental and far bleaker than fluctuating drug purity, treatment
regimes, ageing heroin users and poly drug use: it's about dead-end
lives, abject social inequality and a social care system at breaking
In the North East – which has witnessed the sharpest rises in
deaths in the last two years – in towns such as Redcar, people are more
than twice as likely to die from drugs than in London. These are
non-urban regions where government cuts to vital services have hit
hardest. There is a similar picture in the North West, the region with
the second highest rate of drug deaths, in towns such as Carlisle,
Barrow-in-Furness and Pendle. As one report
found: "There is a clear relationship of greater cuts with greater
deprivation across most classes of authority and most services."Go to: http://www.vice.com/en_uk/read/uk-rise-in-drug-deaths-940