Deaths related to drug poisoning reached a 26-year high in England and Wales last year, due to the greatest annual increase on record, new figures have shown.
The Office of National Statistics (ONS) said that 4,359 people died due to drug poisoning in 2018, which is 16% more than in 2017 and the largest annual increase since recording began in 1993.
The most frequently cited drug linked to the deaths were opiates, like heroin and morphine.
However, cocaine-related deaths rose for the seventh year in a row, doubling between 2015 and 2018, and reaching the highest level ever.
Deaths from new psychoactive substances also increased, returning to the same level in 2016, even though they had halved in 2017.
The figures also highlighted a clear north-south divide, with the north-east of England having a much higher death rate (96.3 deaths per million people) compared to London, which had the lowest (34.9 deaths per million).
The number of men who have died of drug poisoning has also significantly increased from 89.6 per one million males in 2017 to 105.4 in 2018.
ONS deputy director for health analysis and life events, Ben Humberstone, said: ‘The number of deaths registered from drug use in 2018 was the highest since our records began in 1993. We have also seen the biggest year-on-year percentage increase.
‘Previously, this had been linked to a rise in deaths related to opiates like heroin and morphine, but last year there were also increases in deaths across a wider variety of substances including cocaine and what had been known as “legal highs”.’