Kit Malthouse Minister of State (Minister for Crime and Policing) – February 2020 to July 2022
The populations in different parts of the UK may well have suffered differently in terms of long term drug misuse from the legacy effects of deindustrialisation and subsequent public health responses over decades. Scotland may well now be experiencing the relatively worse, tragic effects because the causes to an extent were ‘baked in’ some time ago.
However, the most recent Office for National Statistics (ONS) data on drug deaths elsewhere in the UK clearly show that drug policies and support being implemented by governments in Westminster and Cardiff are failing to slow far less stop increasing deaths due to drug misuse. And Westminster governments, with drugs policy responsibility and full agency for all of England, are also failing to resolve very substantial regional disparities in numbers of deaths from drug misuse
From the ONS’ latest drug death statistics for England and Wales published on 3 August 2022 (with my emphasis):
‘4,859 deaths related to drug poisoning were registered in 2021 in England and Wales, equivalent to a rate of 84.4 deaths per million people; this is 6.2% HIGHER THAN THE RATE RECORDED IN 2020 (79.5 deaths per million).
‘3,060 drug poisoning deaths registered in 2021 were identified as drug misuse, accounting for 53.2 deaths per million people.’
Oddly, nowhere in the ONS’ text does it state that the ‘drug misuse’ statistic is the highest on record but its graph, Figure 2 shows that there has been a rising trend in deaths from drug misuse in England and Wales since (at least) 1993: SO THE 2021 FIGURE IS INDEED A RECORD HIGH.
The ONS reports that: ‘In 2021, the highest rate of drug misuse deaths was observed in the North East (104.1 DEATHS PER MILLION; 255 registered deaths), while the lowest rate was in the East of England (27.4 DEATHS PER MILLION; 166 deaths). The North East has had the HIGHEST RATE OF DRUG MISUSE DEATHS FOR THE PAST NINE YEARS and has a STATISTICALLY SIGNIFICANTLY HIGHER RATE THAN ALL OTHER REGIONS OF ENGLAND.’
THESE ARE MASSIVE AND LONGSTANDING REGIONAL DIFFERENCE within one country, England which has one set of drug policies created and overseen by one government! Given this, how can Westminster policies be regarded as successful, immune to criticism? (Arguably only if the drug users in North East England are of no concern to Westminster politicians.)
Why have these disparities not been addressed? Why is there apparent silence in England over this but the opposite pertains in the media, the BBC and amongst opposition politicians in Scotland? Is it that they are all focused on some other objective that means the attention, the intensity of criticism, is of a different order in Scotland from elsewhere in the UK?
From the ONS: ‘In Wales, the rate of drug misuse deaths rose to 72.4 deaths per million from 51.1 deaths per million in 2020, returning to the high point recorded in 2018 (72.0 deaths per million).’ Does Labour in government not have a quick, easy solution either?