Deaths related to the painkiller fentanyl are up by almost one third in a year

ONS figures show fatalities involving the opioid have rocketed while the total number of drug-related deaths remains stable 

ONS figures show fatalities involving the opioid have rocketed while the total number of drug-related deaths remains stable 

Picture: Alamy

Deaths involving the painkiller fentanyl have risen by almost a third, official figures show.

There were 75 fatalities linked to the opioid in England and Wales last year, an increase of 29% since 2016 when there were 58.

The figures, published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), also show a rise in deaths involving cocaine for the sixth consecutive year.

The number rose from 371 in 2016 to 432 last year, but it is impossible to say whether the substances related to the deaths were powder or crack cocaine.

Record number of drugs deaths

A total of 3,756 deaths involving legal and illegal drugs were registered in England and Wales in 2017.

This is the highest death toll since comparable records began in 1993, but static compared to 2016 when there were 3,744 deaths related to drug poisoning.

ONS health analysis statistician Ellie Osborn said: 'The figures published today show that the level of drug poisoning deaths in 2017 remained stable.

'However, despite deaths from most opiates declining or remaining steady, deaths from fentanyl continued to rise, as did cocaine deaths, which increased for the sixth consecutive year.'

Substance misuse

Last year, there were 2,521 drug-related deaths among males and 1,235 among females. Most were from drug misuse, which accounted for 67% of the total number of drug poisoning deaths.

Carfentanyl, a synthetic opiate which is more powerful than fentanyl, was mentioned on death certificates for the first time in 2017 and accounted for 27 deaths.

‘Most people who use opioids have had very difficult lives and we’re letting them down if we don’t give them the best care’

Karen Tyrell, Addaction

However, deaths involving heroin and morphine fell by 4% last year to 1,164, the first decline since 2012.

Fatalities from so-called 'legal highs' declined by a half in 2017, from 123 in 2016 to 61, following the government's introduction of a blanket ban on new psychoactive substances.

Preventable deaths

The drug and alcohol charity Addaction insisted many drug-related deaths are preventable.

Addaction executive director Karen Tyrell said: 'People who use opioids often have cumulative physical and mental health problems.

'Most of them have had very difficult, often traumatic lives and we're letting them down if we don't give them the best care that we can.'

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