By Ian Hamilton, Alex Stevens

For the fifth year in a row, the number of drug-related deaths reported in England and Wales has risen to record levels, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics. In 2017, 2,503 deaths were recorded as “drug misuse”. This comes on top of July’s announcement of an 8% increase in drug-related deaths in Scotland.

In Great Britain, as a whole, deaths from drugs overtook traffic fatalities as a leading cause of death in 2008, and they have risen particularly sharply since 2012.

Jump in a car and everything around you is designed with safety in mind, from the roads to the construction of the vehicle. But with drugs, you are on your own. Policy effort is centred on preventing drug use rather than protecting people when they use substances.

Blaming the dead

The government’s response to these latest figures will undoubtedly be to deflect attention from the failure of policy and blame those who died instead, arguing that they were part of an ageing cohort of drug users whose lifestyles and poor choices contributed to their early deaths.

The people most likely to die are working class, over 40 and living in de-industrialised areas. Drug death rates are nine times higher in the most deprived neighbourhoods than in the richest areas.

Unfortunately, investment in treatment does not match local need, so those areas with the greatest need get the least resources.