Deaths related to drug poisoning in England and Wales, 2014 registrations

There were 3,346 drug poisoning deaths registered in England and Wales in 2014, the highest since comparable records began in 1993.

New psychoactive substances (including "legal highs")

Over the past few years a number of new drugs have been informally known as "legal highs". There is no official definition of new psychoactive substances (NPS), and all drugs included in our definition for the purposes of this bulletin are listed in Background note 10. This grouping may be revised in future years, as and when further NPS are indentified, and we welcome comments on the drugs included in this category.

Some of the more common NPS include synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists (for example, "spice"), gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) and its precursor gamma-butyrolactone (GBL), piperazines, cathinones such as mephedrone, benzofurans, and more recently, prescription-type drugs, for example, benzodiazepine analogues. Most of these substances are now controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act (1971)

The number of deaths involving NPS are low compared with the number of deaths involving heroin/morphine, other opiates, or cocaine. However, over the past few years there has been an rise in NPS deaths, with 67 deaths registered in 2014 (up from 60 deaths in 2013). Analysis of the trends based on the year the death occurred, reveal a different pattern than that seen for registration year. Analysis of year of occurrence suggests that there were sharp increases in NPS deaths between 2010 and 2011 and again between 2011 and 2012, but then the number of deaths fell in 2013. Although figures for deaths occurring in 2014 are very incomplete (and thus are not shown in Figure 5), initial indications suggest that the upward trend in NPS deaths has now stabilised.

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