This bulletin presents the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on deaths related to drug poisoning (involving both legal and illegal drugs) and drug misuse (involving illegal drugs) in England and Wales. Figures from 1993 onwards are available to download, and are discussed in the commentary to provide further context to the latest data.
Drug use and drug dependence are known causes of premature mortality, with drug poisoning accounting for 1 in 7 deaths among people in their 20s and 30s in 2014 (see Background note 6). Drug-related deaths occur in a variety of circumstances, each with different social and policy implications. Consequently, there is considerable political, media and public interest in these figures.
This bulletin covers accidents and suicides involving drug poisonings, as well as deaths from drug abuse and drug dependence. It doesn’t include other adverse effects of drugs (for example, anaphylactic shock). Drug poisoning deaths involve a broad spectrum of substances, including legal and illegal drugs, prescription-type drugs (either prescribed to the individual or obtained by other means) and over-the-counter medications. Some of these deaths may also be from complications of drug abuse, such as deep vein thrombosis or septicaemia from intravenous drug use, rather than an acute drug overdose.
The definition of a drug misuse death is (a) deaths where the underlying cause is drug abuse or drug dependence and (b) deaths where the underlying cause is drug poisoning and where any of the substances controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 are involved. This definition has been used across the UK. More details can be found in Background note 5.
The figures presented here are for deaths registered each year, rather than deaths occurring each year. Almost all drug-related deaths are certified by a coroner. Due to the length of time it takes a coroner to complete an inquest, half of drug-related deaths registered in 2014 will have actually occurred prior to 2014. See the “Impact of registration delays on drug-related deaths” section below for more information. Nevertheless, general trends in drug-related deaths are broadly equivalent, regardless of whether the data is analysed by year of occurrence or year of registration. Extra information is provided in the commentary where differences in the trends do exist.