Drug misuse deaths in Wales in 2018

There were a total of 208 drug misuse deaths registered in 2018. This is an increase of 23 deaths or 12.4 percent from the previous year, and by just over 50 percent since 2009. These figures represent the highest number of drug misuse deaths recorded in Wales according to the Office for National Statistics.

In 2018, Wales had the second highest rate of drug misuse deaths by region in England and Wales at 72 per million population. Wales was second only to the North East England region, which reported a rate of 96.3 per million population.

Drug deaths have increased in both men and women, by 13 and 12 percent respectively, and across all age groups with the exception of those aged 20-39 years. The largest increase was observed in those aged 40-49 years. 

The highest number of drug deaths occurred in what was the ABMU Health Board area, accounting for just over 30 percent of drug misuse deaths. However, this proportion has decreased compared to the previous year. Increases in the number of deaths were seen in Cwm Taf, Cardiff & Vale and Aneurin Bevan University Health Board areas.

Josie Smith, Head of Substance Misuse in Public Health Wales, stated:

“It is increasingly well documented that drug markets have changed over the last few years, both in the availability and range of drugs, and that this trend is increasing. One of the most distressing impacts of these changes is the rise in premature deaths. The report published today provides stark evidence of this with rates of drug deaths in Wales at their highest ever.     

“Whilst it is not possible, without further analysis, to provide definitive evidence to explain this increase in terms of specific drugs, we do know that 79 percent of the drug deaths in 2018 involved opioids, including heroin. This has been a relatively consistent pattern over the last few years, alongside benzodiazepines mentioned in 24 percent of deaths. Deaths involving cocaine, however, have increased dramatically, now mentioned in 15 percent of drug deaths compared with 4 percent a decade ago.  We also know that poly drug use – using different drugs and alcohol simultaneously – is common practice and significantly increases the risk of a fatal overdose.

“It’s really vital that we recognise that these figures relate to real people and the impact on their families, partners and friends may be devastating. Given the scale of problem drug use in Wales, it is likely that every member of the population will know someone affected by or experiencing difficulties with drugs, be they illegal or prescribed, but may be unaware. Many people may hide drug use or dependency problems and not seek support from loved ones or from services designed to offer support.  Every effort must be made to ensure that support is sought early on to prevent escalation of problem use and dependency without the fear of stigmatisation or social exclusion and with a recognition that drug use occurs amongst all age groups and all strata of society.”