If current UK drug policy is sufficient why this variability across England?


I note that with the drugs conferences in Glasgow this week various media organisations are again reporting on the drug death statistics in Scotland. These are indeed very concerning; they do seem to have an explanation (but I’m no expert); and it is the subject of action by the SG, its agencies, third sector bodies etc.

[ For action already underway see: https://talkingupscotlandtwo.com/2020/02/26/nhs-greater-glasgow-clyde-taking-steps-now-to-reduce-drug-deaths/]

Although the figures for Scotland on drugs deaths are appalling and worse that those in England (although calculated a bit differently,) it is notable that even within England alone the actual figures are strikingly different across the regions.

[On calculation see: https://talkingupscotlandtwo.com/2020/02/14/question-time-debate-misses-facts-on-drug-deaths-showing-snp-is-not-to-blame/]

Below are some facts from the latest data published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Source: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/bulletins/deathsrelatedtodrugpoisoninginenglandandwales/2018registrations

The ONS reports that in 2018 in North East England there were 96.2 deaths per million persons due to drug misuse – the highest in England. The lowest figure was 34.9 deaths per million persons in London – that’s a very big difference. There is a general pattern of the rate of deaths increasing the further one moves away from London and the South East (see ONS Figure 4: Drug misuse has a marked North-South divide).

Why is there such variability within one country, one system, and all under the management of a Tory government for the past 10 years? If current UK drug policy is sufficient and the Westminster government is actively using all the (adequate) powers at its disposal – as it may claim – why is this variability across England still in existence?

But the ONS also states: “The number of deaths registered arising from drug use in 2018 (in England and Wales) was the highest since our records began in 1993. We have also seen the biggest year-on-year percentage increase”.

So whatever is said in the media about the situation in Scotland – and it is right that the situation is seriously addressed – let’s try not to permit the coverage to airbrush out the very marked, unexplained regional variations in England.


4 thoughts on “If current UK drug policy is sufficient why this variability across England?

    1. Colin, re your last sentence. Just spotted this on Twitter from The Guardian’s Scotland correspondent written c. 1 hour ago:

      “Libby Brooks @libby_brooks
      It’s the evening before the UK government’s drug summit in Glasgow & I’m still waiting for any word on media arrangements having called & emailed numerous times. We had full access to Scottish gov/Glasgow city council event today. Hugely frustrating”

      Liked by 1 person

  1. From the map it looks as if the most affected areas in England are those where there has been long term severe deprivation, which are in the north. This is what has happened in Scotland so no surprise and they dont seem to have any solution. At least we are working on that but not easy when policy is not devolved.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is what ‘devolved’ Scotland is already achieving by ‘smart’ application of our existing powers – Imagine how ‘smart’ application of the full ‘Independent’ panoply of drug policy might achieve (as per Portugal). Where we sit right now – I suppose our best application of effort is to ‘shame’ Westminster into passing drug policy to Holyrood – If they refuse – then finding ways to make that a decision with heavy political costs for Westminster. Link and snippet below:


    Drugs prosecutions in Scotland have plummeted following a change in policy.

    Figures show that cases have halved in four years, with prosecutors applying what they say is “smart”, not “soft touch” justice.

    In the last financial year, 2018-19, the number of drug prosecutions going to court stood at less than 1,800. This compares to 2015-16, when the figure was 3,500.

    Prosecutors are increasingly dealing with drug possession as a social or health issue rather than a criminal one.

    Scotland has a rate of drug deaths higher than Britain as a whole and higher than any country in the European Union.

    Dundee is at the centre of the crisis and is suspected to have had 73 drug deaths last year, 11 more than its previous peak.

    Much of the drug trade in the city is run by gangs from Manchester that have flooded the city’s housing estates with crack cocaine.

    Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC has led the change in prosecution policy. He told The Times that he supported diversions, which see fiscals waive or defer prosecution to give addicts the opportunity to address their issues.

    The number of diversions for simple possessions rose from 57 in 2017-18 to 324 last year.

    Mr Wolffe said: “I support the use of alternatives to prosecution, including diversion, in appropriate cases. In particular, diversion may be used where the accused has an identifiable need that has contributed to the offending.”


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