10th August 2022
First and foremost, these numbers represent real people whose lives have been tragically lost. Whatsmore, they represent the abysmal failure of UK Government policy and the continuous refusal to change anything
In Scotland, 1,330 people died from drugs in 2021. This is a 1% fall from the year before. However, Scotland still has an extensive way to go as they remain the country with the highest drug-related death rate in Europe. Scotland is losing 25 people every week from drugs. We hope that 2021 is the start of decreasing drug deaths for Scotland.
England and Wales hit a heartbreaking milestone, with a record 3,060 deaths from drugs recorded for 2021. This is 64 more people than the previous year. These numbers mean that 58 people are dying every week from drugs. At 84.4 deaths per million of the population, England and Wales’ drug death rate remains more than 5 times the European average (16.7 per million) and 10 times higher than Portugal's (8 per million).
Portugal responded to its spiralling drug death crisis 20 years ago by making drugs a health issue. Since then Portugal has had some of the lowest drug death rates in Europe. Ester Kincová, Public Affairs and Policy Manager for Transform says: “The UK Government needs to start treating drug policy as the health issue that it is and follow the evidence, otherwise people’s loved ones will keep dying”. Instead, the UK continues to treat drugs and use as a criminal justice issue, with fatal results.
Vicky Unwin’s daughter, Louise, died after taking ketamine when she was only 21. Vicky now campaigns for a change in drug laws with Anyone’s Child. She wants drug laws that better protect lives, and keep families together. Looking at the 2021 figures, she says: “Once again, with a very heavy heart, I read the news of drug deaths in England rising. How many more families must endure the agony of losing a loved one, like our family lost our daughter Louise, before real action is taken? They talk, while we are dying”.
Looking closer at the England and Wales figures, we also see that cocaine-related deaths have alarmingly hit an 11-year record high, with 840 deaths recorded. Deaths related to amphetamines have also more than doubled since 2010, to a record high of 107.
We are in the midst of a public health emergency. Without pivoting to treating drugs as a public health issue rather than a criminal issue, we cannot expect change. Ester Kincová states “We need more harm reduction and ultimately legal regulation of the drug market to see the drug death figures go down”.
In 1971 there were less than 200 drug-related deaths in the UK. Without figures from Northern Ireland (expected to be released in early 2023), 2021’s total already stands at 4,390. Drug-related deaths are the starkest indicator of the UK’s failing drug policy. 1971 is also the year that the Misuse of Drugs Act came into effect in the UK. It is the law that established our modern form of drug prohibition. After 50 years, it remains the basis for UK drug policy.
As a UK constituent, you can write to your MP with your reaction to these figures. It is essential that your MP knows that you care about the number of drug deaths and the need for drug policy reform. Use our template for an easy guide on how to do so.
Each number is someone’s child, brother, sister, friend, and partner.