Page last updated at 14:35 GMT, Wednesday, 26 August 2009 15:35 UK

Female drug deaths 'rise by 17%'

Man taking drugs
Deaths from drug misuse were highest among men aged 30 to 39

The number of women dying drug-related deaths in England and Wales rose by 17% in 2008 to 853, according to the Office for National Statistics.

The number of male deaths also rose 8% compared with 2007 to 2,075 - the highest total since 2001.

The figures, which include legal and illegal drugs, also show cocaine caused 235 deaths in 2008 - up 20% from 2007.

The government said it had invested more in treatment programmes, but the Lib Dems called the rises "horrifying".

The ONS figures cover accidents and suicides involving drug poisoning, as well as deaths due to drug abuse and dependence.

They do not include other adverse effects of drugs, like allergic reactions or poisoning with non-medicinal substances, such as household, agricultural or industrial chemicals.


The figures show there were 897 deaths involving heroin or morphine in 2008. That was an increase of 8% from 2007 and the highest number since 2001.

Anti-depressants were responsible for a further 381 deaths in 2008, up from 335 in 2007.

The government's punitive policies and heavy-handed rhetoric on drugs are failing
Norman Lamb, Lib Dems

But over the whole period of 2004 to 2008 deaths from anti-depressants actually fell by 19%.

Deaths from drug misuse - involving illegal substances, abuse or dependence - rose to 1,738 in 2008, the highest level recorded since 2001.

Most deaths from misuse were among men aged 30-39. The increase in total female deaths came after several years of decline from 2005 to 2007.

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb said the government must urgently rethink its strategy on drugs.

"These are horrifying statistics. The toll of damage from drugs is immense and the cost to the NHS is enormous," he said.

"The government's punitive policies and heavy-handed rhetoric on drugs are failing.

"Ministers must make sure that schools and public services work together to make sure that the message gets out that drugs kill."

But a Department of Health spokesman defended the government's actions.

"These findings underline that any kind of drug abuse can harm," he said.

"No death is acceptable and that is why we have significantly increased investment in treatment programmes and support for those who are drug dependant or at risk of self harm."

Fall in price

According to a recent United Nations' report, the UK has more than a million cocaine users - more than any other European country.

And Martin Barnes, chief executive of DrugScope, said the figures showing a rise in cocaine-related deaths were "extremely concerning".

These figures are the worst symptom of a broader problem of addiction that is blighting many communities
Shadow home secretary Chris Grayling

"Every drug-related death is a tragedy and many could have been avoided," he said.

"The steady rise in deaths linked with cocaine use underlines the drug's harms at a time when use of the drug is again increasing, particularly among 16 to 24-year-olds.

"The fall in the price of the drug and evidence of its increased availability may be reasons for this increase."

Shadow home secretary Chris Grayling said: "These figures are alarming in their own right, but they are the worst symptom of a broader problem of addiction that is blighting many communities, and particularly our most deprived areas."

On Tuesday, Mr Grayling compared parts of the UK to the drug-blighted American city of Baltimore as depicted in the television series The Wire.

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