An opiate and cocaine addiction epidemic are raging in Angland and Wales, but it has yet to be addressed by authorities through national policy, similar to the US. In early August, The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported that there were 3,744 deaths from drug poisoning in England and Wales registered in 2016. The number is the highest since comparable records began in 1993.
Many of the deaths can be traced to stronger, purer drugs. Police issued a public health warning last May, hoping to alert regular cocaine users that some of the drugs they have found or seized have been 100% pure, which means that it should take much less of the drug to get high. People who are used to the drug being cut with other substances and those who describe themselves as “casual” or “social users” are at a much greater risk of overdose that can lead to heart attacks and possibly death.
Overdose deaths involving heroin and cocaine were are at their highest level ever last year, and deaths involving cocaine have increased for the past five consecutive years. From 2015 to 2016, they rose by 16% per cent to 371. In England, heroin has always been a problem, but overdoses of cocaine are reaching even more extreme levels, with no end in sight. Fentanyl has implicated in at least 60 UK drug-related deaths since late 2016.
ONS has also sounded an alarm over increased overdose deaths, particularly of older heroin users, many who have been found with not only heroin but fentanyl in their systems post-mortem. Deaths from addiction are highest in the age 40-49 group.
Writing on HuffPost UK, England’s Home Secretary Amber Rudd said that her plan to combat the addiction epidemic will focus on targeting “unscrupulous drug dealers” for arrest and conviction while trying to do more to “protect the vulnerable – to prevent them falling into the cycle of drug abuse and to help them turn their lives around”.
Addiction experts have been skeptical of this approach. In the same UK article, Niamh Eastwood, executive director of drug law experts Release, says that the UK needs to change their approach to the addiction epidemic and focus on evidence-based policy. The UK still offers solely criminal punishment for possession and does not have diversion programs in place to help people with drug problems get help and a chance at recovery.
Eastwood says that without these recovery programs, people have little to turn to. Just like the US, there are few options for addicts to find recovery. There are also few treatment beds available or subsidized by the government. “For the last seven years treatment quality has dwindled in many parts of the country, with services more focused on pushing people out of treatment due to national policy and local commissioning practices.”