International Overdose Awareness Day

Drug deaths in England and Wales hit ‘record levels’ as the world marks International Overdose Awareness Day

Drug-related deaths in England and Wales have reached record levels, the Office for National Statistics has revealed, as the world’s largest annual campaign to end overdose gets underway.

International Overdose Awareness Day (31st August) was created to highlight the impact of substance misuse and overdose, and to stimulate discussion worldwide around overdose prevention and drug policies.

Yet as the day is marked around the world, the impact of drug use in the UK has never been more evident, with the ONS reporting 4,859 drug-related poisoning deaths in England and Wales in 2021 alone: a rate of 84.4 deaths per million people.

According to experts, this rise – the highest since records began in 1993 – has been driven primarily by opiates. However, fatalities involving other substances such as cocaine have also seen ‘significant’ rises over the last 12 months. 

Cocaine-related deaths have increased seven-fold in 10 years, with men accounting for three quarters of these.

A drug epidemic

ONS data shows that the increase in drug-related poisoning deaths marks the ninth consecutive rise for such fatalities, up 6.2 per cent from the previous year (2020).

And while experts say the rise is primarily due to opiates, there has also been a significant increase in the number of deaths caused by other substances including cocaine and ‘Street Valium’ – a benzodiazepine-type tablet that affects the central nervous system.

The rise in cocaine-related deaths has been attributed to its increasing popularity among the middle classes and the fact that more people are now working from home in the wake of the pandemic, leading to more opportunities to use drugs during the day.

A rise in purity, combined with a reduction in price, has also driven appeal for habitual drug users.  

Commenting on the prevalence of cocaine addiction and related fatalities, Ian Hamilton, an addiction specialist at the University of York said: “Having stronger and cheaper cocaine has attracted new users, some of whom have been caught out by the purity of the drug and unfortunately overdosed.

“We know that cocaine use fell during the pandemic but as restrictions lifted, this is also likely to have played a part, as people’s tolerance would have reduced, and they couldn’t cope with the doses they were using prior to the pandemic.”

What are the signs of an overdose?

As a leading UK laboratory with many years’ experience providing court-approved drug testing for family law professionals and local authorities, we are all too familiar with the impact that drug misuse – including overdose – can have on vulnerable families.

Our Giving Back campaign, which launched in spring 2021, has seen us donate over £50,000 to four charity partners in just 15 months, enabling them to reach even more people in need of support.

One such partner is Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol & Drugs (SFAD), a Scottish charity which supports anyone concerned about someone else’s alcohol or drug use in Scotland.

A fundamental campaign for SFAD involves raising awareness of naloxone, a life-saving medication that can reverse the effects of opioid drugs like heroin, methadone, codeine, opium, morphine, and buprenorphine.  

The effects of naloxone last 20-40 minutes, buying crucial time to seek medical help for a person who may be overdosing.  

There are several resources available on the SFAD website, including guidance on overdose prevention and intervention.

Here are some important signs to look for if you have concerns that someone you know may be experiencing an overdose:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Shallow breathing or not breathing at all
  • Unusual snoring and/or gurgling noises
  • Floppy arms and legs
  • Pinprick-sized pupils that do not respond to light
  • Unable to wake the person up
  • Blue/grey fingertips and/or lips
  • Unresponsive to talking, shaking or noises

Fast, accurate and reliable drug testing

AlphaBiolabs has over 15 years’ experience providing drug testing for legal matters, working closely with family law professionals, social workers, and local authorities.

For more information on our legal testing services, or to request a quote, call 0333 600 1300 or email and a member of our legal sales team will be in touch to discuss your needs.

You can get involved in the conversation around International Overdose Awareness Day by using the hashtags #OverdoseAware and #EndOverdose on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook posts to help encourage discussion and awareness. 

Court-approved drug testing

Find out more about our drug testing services for legal matters.