UK drug overdose deaths double European average

The number of deaths from drug overdoses in the UK is more than double the European average, according to a new report from an EU drugs agency.

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) also highlighted the growing number of legal highs, along with health concerns about the way they are being consumed.

In Britain the number of deaths from drug overdoses amounted to 38.3 cases per million population in 2012, more than twice the average for Europe which stood at 17 per million.


The document, European Drug Report 2014: Trends and developments, said: “Most overdoses occur among individuals who have consumed multiple substances, and attributing causality is often problematic.

“With the continuing release of new psychoactive substances on the drug market, there is concern that new or obscure substances that have contributed to deaths may escape detection.”

The number of legal highs has expanded in recent years, the report shows, with 81 new designer drugs identified last year compared with 73 in the previous twelve months.


João Goulão, Chairman of the EMCDDA Management Board, and Wolfgang Götz, Director of the EMCDDA, commented on the constantly changing drugs scene across the continent.

“It must be a serious concern that, recently, we have witnessed the emergence of both new synthetic opioids and hallucinogenic substances that are so highly pharmacologically active that even tiny quantities can be used to produce multiple doses.

“We are only beginning to grasp the future implications of these developments for both public health and drug control, but they do appear to have the potential to transform the nature of the problems we face.”


The report also drew attention to a “worrying” new trend of legal highs being injected rather than smoked or swallowed.

Results of a new study analysing the residue of illegal drugs in waste water from the sewage system of a number of European cities were also contained in the report.

London had the second-highest results in Europe for cocaine.


Norman Baker, Crime Prevention Minister, said: “We control more than 250 new psychoactive substances in the UK, including some of the 81 substances reported for the first time by the European Monitoring Centre.

“I have also set up an expert panel to consider how we can strengthen the UK’s response and to ensure that those involved in breaking the law are brought to justice. The panel will report to me shortly.”