A report by the Office for National Statistics shows that in the last 10 years, Wales has seen an 84% increase in drug-related deaths. This is the highest level ever recorded.
The highest number of recorded drug-related deaths was last year, when there were 208 deaths registered due to drug misuse, compared with 185 in 2017.
Across England and Wales as a whole, Wales comes second only to the north east of England for the highest mortality rate for drug-related deaths.
The overall number of deaths from drug poisonings in Wales was 327, which includes accidental overdoses and suicides from medicinal drugs. Swansea, Rhondda Cynon Taff and Neath Port Talbot saw the highest number of deaths by local authority area.
Most drug deaths are most likely due to an increase in recreational use. Mohan De Silva, Clinical Lead for drugs charity Kaleidoscope Wales, said:
“We do our very best to help people by promoting harm prevention and looking at ways of keeping people safe, but the reality is that there are more and more people accessing drugs and using drugs, and unfortunately no matter how much harm prevention you give there’s likely to be fatalities when you use class A drugs.”
Mr De Silva believes that people are finding it increasingly difficult to cope with some of the stresses of modern life. Housing is also an issue. Homelessness is a key driver, with people using drugs as a way of fighting the cold and surviving. Others don’t know any other lifestyle, some have very complex situations and they’re struggling to access mental health and self-medicate themselves, he said.
North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones said it was a national scandal that people were dying needlessly. He blamed governments for refusing to acknowledge that a radical new approach to drug policy was needed. In the past Mr Jones was a police inspector and has called for ‘fix rooms’ to be introduced. The current approach of tackling drugs is doomed to continue failing, he said.
“We need a new pragmatic, common sense approach that treats problematic drug use as a medical issue and not a criminal matter”, he said.
Josie Smith, Head of Substance Misuse at Public Health Wales, said: “Every effort must be made to ensure that support is sought early on to prevent escalation of problem use and dependency without the fear of stigmatisation or social exclusion and with a recognition that drug use occurs amongst all age groups and all strata of society.”