Record number of drug-related deaths, as opioid crisis hits UK

pharmafile | August 2, 2017 | News story | Medical Communications, Research and Development biotech, drug deaths, drugs, fentanyl, opioid, pharma, pharmaceutical 

Numbers released by the Office for National Statistics (ONC) has revealed that drug misuse deaths were at a record high, with 3,744 deaths in 2016. This figure is the highest since records began in 1993 and marks an increase in 2% over deaths in 2015.

The statistics found that over half of 3,744 deaths were involving an opiate. This reflects a trend that has seen notorious painkiller, fentanyl, begin to be found related to more deaths in the UK. Only yesterday, the National Crime Agency (NCA), revealed that 60 people had dead in the last eight months from taking the opioid that can be 50 times more potent than heroin.

The drug is beginning to become more widespread in the UK, as drug dealers have taken to using the synthetic opioid as a way to bulk out supplies of heroin. However, while heroin is dangerous enough alone, fentanyl can kill with only a fraction of the dose of heroin.

In terms of geography, the ONC found that the north of the country was the most badly affected by drug related deaths – with 77.4 deaths per 1 million population in the North Eat, representing a 15% increase on 2015. The increase in use of fentanyl has also been found to be predominantly ravaging the north, with most of the 60 deaths found in the Yorkshire region.

Drug deaths from heroin and/or morphine were found to have increased, though only slightly, from 2015 – with 8 more deaths. Other opiates were found to be increasing more rapidly in number of deaths, as fentanyl deaths were found to almost double while the opioid painkiller, Oxycodone, (one of the pain drugs associated with the US opioid crisis) also saw a jump of close to 50%.

Ian Cruxton, Deputy Director at the NCA said:  “The threat of synthetic opioids is not new. However, since December 2016, we have seen a number of drug related deaths linked to fentanyl and carfentanyl. The NCA has been working with partners, both in the UK and overseas, to take action against those drug dealers who are playing Russian roulette with the lives of their customers by mixing synthetic opioids with heroin and other class A drugs.”

Carfentanyl is another synthetic opioid painkiller that can be up to 10,000 times stronger than heroin and is ordinarily used as an elephant tranquiliser.

The rise in deaths has led the NCA to focus on stemming supply of the deadly opioids from dealers, leading to a fourth arrest yesterday of a man who had used the dark web to purchase fentanyl with the aim of supplying.

Ben Hargreaves

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