The overall rise in drug-related deaths reported in the most recent figures from ONS, published yesterday (2 August 2017), masks dramatic discrepancies between age groups. Deaths among the under 30s have fallen significantly, with those concerning people in their 20s more than halving over the past 15 years. More than anything else, this reflects the fact that this generation is much less likely than its predecessors to use heroin and other opiates which remain the most dangerous drugs and the single biggest driver of overdose deaths.
The contrast with those in their 40s who came to adulthood at the height of the heroin epidemic could not be starker. Deaths in this group have doubled during the same period, driven as PHE has pointed out by the increasing fragility of a cohort characterised not just by decades of heroin use, but just as importantly by homelessness, poor mental health, alcohol misuse and smoking.
The single most effective thing we can do to minimise deaths is engage as many of this population as possible in treatment. Unfortunately this is proving increasingly difficult as hard-pressed local authorities reduce the resources they allocate to drug treatment. The Drug Strategy published last month announced that from now on, the Home Secretary will personally lead cross-government efforts to reduce drug-related harm; ensuring adequate funding to prevent deaths needs to be the first thing on her agenda.