Drug misuse deaths in Wales reach record high as figures nearly double in one year

New figures, analysed by Public Health Wales, also show most drug misuse deaths were in the 40-44 year age group. Credit: PA Images

The number of people dying from drug misuse in Wales has hit a record high, according to new figures.

The data, from the Office for National Statistics and analysed by Public Health Wales, reveals there were 210 recorded drug misuse deaths last year - an increase of 41% on 2020.

It also showed that the number of people dying in Wales after taking cocaine has doubled over the past five years.

Public Health Wales said the number of deaths involving prescription medicines, either accessed illegally or via a medical-route, was particularly concerning.

The Harm Reduction Database Wales: Drug related mortality, Annual Report 2021-22 aims to help inform drug policy in Wales and prevent deaths.

It found the most commonly reported substance group in 2021 was opioid. There were 150 deaths and 93% involved heroin or morphine.

Other key findings for 2021 included:

  • 322 deaths due to drug poisoning were registered in Wales, an increase of 44% from the previous year. Of these, 210 were classified as drug misuse deaths, an increase of 41% from drug deaths registered in 2020.

  • Two thirds of drug misuse deaths involved a combination of drugs, including alcohol and prescription medicines

  • The ratio of deaths amongst males and females was around 3:1. Drug misuse deaths amongst females was the highest recorded in 2021, with 57 deaths

  • Most deaths occurred in those in the 40-44 year age group

  • There were 13 drug deaths in people under the age of 25

  • Drug misuse deaths were over five times higher amongst those living in the 20% most deprived areas

Welsh Ambulance Service workers will stage more walkouts on January 19 and 23. Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

Rick Lines, Head of Substance Misuse at Public Health Wales, said: “Drug related mortality, specifically deaths related to use of illicit drugs including opiates and cocaine, as well as prescription medicines accessed through non-medical routes present real challenges to preventing deaths. 

"Over the last five years, deaths involving cocaine have more than doubled. 

"Also concerning is the increase in deaths involving benzodiazepines, a class of sedative type drugs including diazepam (commonly known as “Valium”) either prescribed or obtained illicitly, which have also more than doubled in the last few years. 

"Premature deaths from drug use are preventable. Each drug related death has a considerable and long lasting impact upon the individual’s family, peers and communities."

Mr Lines added that despite initiatives like the Take Home Naloxone programme, the scale of drug deaths in Wales means the impact of current policies needs to be analysed and change needs to happen to help lower the amount of drug related deaths.

Naloxone is a lifesaving antidote which can reverse the effects of an opiate overdose. It was used in 288 overdose cases in Wales last year, with only three deaths reported.