Experts have warned that the coronavirus pandemic is exacerbating a national substance abuse crisis, with coroner figures showing the most drug and alcohol related deaths in seven years.
The coroner for Buckinghamshire found that the deaths of 24 people – eight women and 16 men – were related to drugs or alcohol in 2020.
That is a rise from the 18 deaths recorded in 2019, inquest conclusions published by the Ministry of Justice show.
The chief executive of Alcohol Change UK said there was still work to be done to understand the stark rise in deaths across England and Wales.
Dr Richard Piper suggested the pandemic could have contributed to people being more likely to consume alcohol, but less likely to seek help for problem drinking.
He added: “What is clear is that the crisis is deepening and millions of people are suffering as a result.
"If the UK is to recover from the pandemic, the Government must act.
“We need to have a comprehensive, strategic set of policies from the Government to tackle alcohol harm, including an alcohol care team in every NHS hospital that needs one, and sustainable funding for treatment services so that every one of us who is struggling has access to high-quality support when we need it."
Dr Laura Garius, policy lead at drugs charity Release, said drug-related deaths had been rising at an unprecedented rate for years.
She said: “The current drug death crisis represents a failure of UK drug policy to protect some of the most vulnerable people in society, as well as a failure to invest in harm reduction, and treatment, that we know can save lives.”
A recent Release survey indicated that people had reported an increase in their drug use throughout the pandemic.
Dr Garius said: “We know that people use drugs for a variety of reasons, including relieving feelings of boredom and stress, which have been heightened as a result of the pandemic.”
A Government spokesman said systematically addressing the causes of preventable deaths and ill health via the new Office for Health Promotion was a priority, adding that the Government would invest £80m in drug treatment funding across 15 years.
He said: "Throughout the last year providers have continued to support and treat people misusing drugs and alcohol and we are supporting local authorities with over £3.3 billion in 2021-2022 to spend on public health services.
“Death from drugs and alcohol misuse can devastate lives and harm communities, and we will always work at a national and local level to tackle drug misuse, tighten controls on dangerous substances and widen the availability of treatments which prevent overdose deaths.”
As part of the NHS Long Term Plan, the Government is supporting efforts to establish or improve specialised Alcohol Care Teams in hospitals with the highest rates of alcohol harm.