MEAM responds to drug related death statistics

August 03, 2021

The Office for National Statistics has published the latest England and Wales statistics on drug-related deaths for 2020.

Yet again, they reveal a picture of tragic loss and suffering, with the total number of deaths in 2020 standing at 4,561 – a 3.8% per cent increase from 2019 and the highest annual total recorded since records began in 1993.

Substance misuse is one of the primary issues for many people experiencing multiple disadvantage and  individuals facing substance misuse issues alongside other problems are at elevated risk. Many of the people who died will have faced a combination of problems including homelessness, physical and mental health problems and contact with the criminal justice system, without getting the coordinated support they needed.

The timing of today’s release is critical as it follow the publication of part 2 of Dame Carol Black’s independent review of drugs. The government has now announced a new cross-government unit on drugs and a new long-term drugs strategy that will be published by the end of 2021. The latest figures only add urgency to this work.

Earlier this week, MEAM published a new briefing encouraging local areas to review the premature deaths of people facing multiple disadvantage, and calling on government to require this and collate learning from reviews to inform policy decisions.

Commenting on the statistics, Oliver Hilbery, Director of MEAM said:

Today’s statistics reveal a picture of tragic loss and suffering and our thoughts are with those who have lost family and friends.

Too often, people facing multiple disadvantage are poorly supported by services designed to focus on singular issues, meaning that they do not get the help they need. Sadly, we know that today’s figures will include many people facing multiple disadvantage.

Tackling this problem requires an urgent cross-government response both locally and nationally. Everyone has a role to play in supporting people facing substance misuse problems and multiple disadvantage. Preventing and reducing deaths should be a goal for all local services to work collaboratively towards.

The government’s response to Dame Carol Black’s review on drugs will be crucial in developing a whole systems approach to improve responses for people facing multiple disadvantage and prevent premature deaths.

As a coalition, MEAM will continue to encourage local areas and national government to review all premature deaths of people facing multiple disadvantage, to support learning and prevent future deaths.”