The number of people who died as a result of drug poisoning last year rose to 3,346 last year, the highest number since records began in 1993. According to figures by the Office of National Statistics (ONS), the mortality rate from drug misuse in England and Wales in 2014 was also the highest ever recorded at 39.9 deaths per million population.
Of these death, more than two-thirds (2,248) were as a result of illegal drugs, with the number of people dying from cocaine and heroin misuse rising sharply.
According to the figures, the number of deaths involving heroin and/or morphine increased by almost two-thirds between 2012 and 2014, from 579 to 952 deaths. Elsewhere, deaths involving cocaine increased sharply to 247 in 2014 – up from 169 deaths in 2013.
The ONS explained the rise in the number of cocaine-related deaths was due to an increase in the drug's purity levels over the past two years. A spokesperson said: "The National Crime Agency suggests there has been a gradual increase in user-level cocaine purity over the last two years, and there were marked regional variations in the purity of crack cocaine. These two factors are likely to be contributing to the increase in deaths involving cocaine."
An increase in the availability of "super-strength" ecstasy pills is also cited as reason for the 50 deaths from the Class A drug last year.
The number of people dying using antidepressants is also at its highest since 1999 at 517. The data shows people aged between 40 and 69 make up the majority of these deaths. People aged 40 to 49 also had the highest mortality rate for drug misuse, at 88.4% per million population.
The ONS report stated: "This age pattern of drug misuse deaths is broadly in line with treatment figures from Public Health England, which show that people receiving treatment for drug misuse are getting older.
"Moreover, this ageing drug-using population experience wider health problems, making them harder to treat, thus impacting on mortality."
The number of people dying form so called "legal highs" – also known as new psychoactive drugs (NPS) - such as laughing gas hit 67 last year, but the ONS suggest the rise in deaths involving these drugs have now stabilised.
Males were more than 2.5 times more likely to die from drug misuse than females, at 58.0 deaths per million population for men compared to 21.9 for females. The North East was also found to have the highest mortality rate from drug misuse for the second year running (69.3 deaths per million population), while London had the lowest (25.4 deaths per million).