Getting to grips with . . .

Why codeine deaths have reached a record high

Rise of the ‘dark web’ and demography of addicts may explain surge

Codeine-related deaths have increased by almost 25% in the past year to a record high, according to data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Analysis shows that 212 people died of drug poisoning from codeine in 2020, up from 167 in 2019, 169 in 2018 and 156 in 2017. The latest figure is the highest number of deaths from the drug in a calendar year since records began in 1993, and more than double the number from ten years ago, when 91 people died from codeine.

Of the 115,000 prescriptions that are written for opioids in the UK every day, five are thought to result in a death, according to the Priory Group.

Several theories have been put forward for the surge in codeine deaths. Ian Hamilton, a senior lecturer in addiction and mental health at the University of York, tells The Telegraph that the internet and unregulated dark web marketplaces have made the illegal sale of codeine simpler and more accessible.

He says the dark web “makes it relatively easy for people to source drugs like codeine without having to leave their house” and points out that suppliers “won’t place any limits on how many pills an individual orders, providing they can pay for them”.

He adds that this trend has “undoubtedly contributed to the rising problem many people are having with use of non-medical prescription drugs”.

The ONS points out that there is also an ageing group of long-term addicts are who “increasingly susceptible to a fatal overdose” as they get older.

James Nicholls, the chief executive of Transform Drug Policy Foundation, said the “grim drug death statistics” are a “clear signal that an urgent change of course is needed in UK drug policy”.

Earlier this year, The Times said experts in the UK were working to “stave off a US-style addiction crisis”, referring to the American epidemic in which deaths from opioid overdoses have exceeded those from HIV or Aids. The newspaper said there had been warnings that a year of lockdowns might have led to “more ‘stopgap’ pain relief prescriptions while sufferers wait longer to see specialists”.

The Independent reported earlier this week that drug-related deaths in Scotland rose to a record 1,339 last year, with 1,192 of them related to use of opioids including codeine. England and Wales has also seen a record number of overall drug-related deaths, with 4,561 deaths related to drug poisoning registered in England and Wales in 2020.

Codeine works by stopping pain signals from travelling along the nerves to the brain. The NHS warns that codeine is addictive and those who take it for a long time can become tolerant to it, meaning they need higher doses to control pain over time.

Recommended

Boris Johnson and his trouble with the truth
Boris Johnson at the weekly cabinet meeting today
Why we’re talking about . . .

Boris Johnson and his trouble with the truth

‘Go-slow’ protesters: who they are and what they want
Traffic on an a-road
Fact file

‘Go-slow’ protesters: who they are and what they want

What to expect from the new Covid wave
Members of the public look at a wall of remembrance for Covid-19 victims
In Depth

What to expect from the new Covid wave

‘Cabinet angry at defending Johnson again’
Today’s newspaper front pages
Today’s newspapers

‘Cabinet angry at defending Johnson again’

Popular articles

Are we heading for World War Three?
Ukrainian soldiers patrol on the frontline in Zolote, Ukraine
In Depth

Are we heading for World War Three?

What happened to Logan Mwangi?
Tributes left to Logan Mwangi
Today’s big question

What happened to Logan Mwangi?

Nato vs. Russia: who would win in a war?
Nato troops
Today’s big question

Nato vs. Russia: who would win in a war?

The Week Footer Banner