Eight deaths related to drug poisoning were recorded in East Cambridgeshire last year, the highest annual total since records began in 1993.

Figures released by the Office for National Statistics show that across England as a whole, the number of such deaths recorded rose by 3.3 per cent in 2019 compared with the year before.

In Cambridgeshire, the number of deaths related to drug poisoning recorded dropped, from 44 in 2018 to 40 last year, but that follows a general increase since 2009.

The county’s three-year average for the years 2009 to 2011 was around 22 such deaths a year, compared with an average of around 40 deaths annually over the past three years up to 2019.

In England, the total figure has been steadily climbing since 2012, from 2,367 then, rising every year to 4,115 in 2019, an increase of 3.3 per cent from the 3,983 such deaths recorded in 2018.

In East Cambridgeshire there were eight such deaths recorded in 2019, up from two the year before, and three in 2017. The highest number of deaths linked to drug poisoning recorded in a single year in the district had previously been 2005, when there were six such deaths recorded.

In Cambridge, there were 14 such deaths recorded in 2019, up from eight the year before, and nine in 2017.

In the rest of the county, the figures were lower in 2019 than the year before. In Fenland there were four such deaths recorded, down from 13 the year before, in Huntingdonshire there were 11 also down from 13 the year before, and in South Cambridgeshire there were three, down from eight the year before.

Statistical analysis by the Office for National Statistics shows the age-standardised mortality rate of drug-poisoning deaths per 100,000 – a measure which reflects population size and age distribution – also shows the rate of such incidences has been rising in England and in Cambridgeshire over the past few years.

The ONS says the figures record the years the deaths are registered, rather than when each death occurred, and that due to the length of time it takes to complete a coroner’s inquest such deaths can take “months or even years” to be registered. Locations are established by the place of usual residence of the deceased.

The available statistics do not reveal the specific cause of death in each case. According to the description provided by the ONS, to be recorded as a drug poisoning death, the cause can include mental and behavioural disorders caused by drug use excluding alcohol and tobacco, as well as accidental or intentional poisoning or assault by drugs, medicaments, and biological substances.

The deputy director of health analysis and life events at the ONS, Ben Humberstone, said that across England and Wales: “Almost half of all drug related deaths involved opiates such as heroin and morphine. However, cocaine deaths rose for the eighth consecutive year to their highest level.”

UK Addiction Treatment (UKAT), which offers private drug rehabilitation services, said the latest figures show drug poisoning deaths in the East of England have reached a record high.

UKAT said the ONS report reveals that between 2017 and 2019, the number of drug poisoning deaths recorded across the East reached 1,081, up from 1,059 between 2016 and 2018 and up from just 885 in 2013 to 2015.

Group treatment lead at UKAT, Nuno Albuquerque, said: “These ONS figures are saddening but unsurprising. It is here in black and white; the situation is only getting worse for those most vulnerable in society. We urge councils across the East to invest in effective drug and alcohol services in their 2021 budget to avoid even more loss of life.

“We must remember that these aren’t just numbers; they’re someone’s mother, father, child or friend who has lost their lives to drugs and we can’t stress enough the value of investing in the treatment of addiction.

“2020 has proven to be a difficult year for many.

“Some will undoubtedly turn to misusing drugs as a coping mechanism. Our fear is that these figures could tip off the scale in next year’s report unless councils here take proactive, preventive action today to save lives tomorrow.”

* The drug and alcohol service for Cambridgeshire remains operational during the Covid-19 epidemic. You can call them on 0300 555 0101 or if you prefer drop them an email cambridgeshirereferrals@cgl.org.uk. Some services have been affected during the pandemic.