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Cocaine deaths reach highest level since records began

More people died after taking cocaine last year than in any year since records began, many of them middle-aged men.

By Martin Beckford, Social Affairs Correspondent
Last Updated: 5:10PM BST 28 Aug 2008

Figures show 196 people in England and Wales died after taking the Class A drug in 2007, up from 23 when the statistics were first compiled in 1993.

The data published by the Office for National Statistics also show a 35 per cent increase in the number of deaths involving the heroin substitute methadone in a year, to 325.

There was a 16 per cent rise in the number of deaths involving heroin and morphine, with the drugs claiming 829 lives in 2007 compared with 713 the year before.

Deaths involving amphetamines, half of which were ecstasy, rose slightly to 97.

The figures also reveal a sharp increase in the number of older men dying after taking drugs.

Throughout the 1990s, men aged 20-29 were most likely to die from taking drugs.

However since 2003 drug deaths have been highest in men aged 30-39, while the death rate among men aged 40-49 has increased by 45 per cent in the past five years.

A spokesman for drugs charity Addaction said: "The massive increase in cocaine deaths is the most worrying, as it is still seen as a safe middle-class drug.

"People think they can copy celebrities and do a quick line because it doesn't have the same stigma as other Class As but it's actually just as destructive.

"It's particularly worrying that middle-aged men are now continuing to use drugs as they get older.

"At one time young people would dabble then stop as they settled down but these kind of figures suggest an epidemic."

In total 2,640 people died from drug poisoning last year, an increase of 3 per cent on the previous year's figure of 2,570.

The deaths include those of drug addicts, accidental overdoses, suicide and homicides involving both legal and illegal substances.

Of these, 1,914 were men - the highest number since 2002 and a rise of 7 per cent on last year.

However the number of female drug deaths is at its lowest level since the ONS began compiling the figures in 1993, with a fall of 8 per cent to 726.

The number of deaths involving the legal painkillers paracetamol and co-proxamol fell to 242 last year, the lowest on record.

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