Buckinghamshire saw a record number of drug-related deaths last year, figures show.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists called on the Government to “wake up” following years of cuts to addiction services, which it said have fuelled a record number of deaths across England and Wales.
Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures show there were 34 drug-related deaths recorded in Buckinghamshire in 2020.
This was up from 33 the year before, and the highest figure since records began in 1993.
The deaths relate to poisoning from a variety of illegal and legal drugs, including prescription and over-the-counter medicines.
The figures count deaths from drug abuse but also include those from accidents, suicides, and health complications arising from drug use.
In Buckinghamshire, 21 deaths last year were down to misuse, meaning they involved illegal drugs, or were a result of drug abuse or dependence – also a record figure.
Across England and Wales, 4,561 deaths from drug poisoning were recorded in 2020 – two-thirds of these from misuse.
It represents a record number for the two nations, and the eighth successive year of increase.
The ONS said around half of the deaths will have occurred in the previous year due to delays with death registrations, with the majority before the pandemic.
Dr Emily Finch, vice-chair of the addictions faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “Years of cuts have left addictions services ill-equipped to treat people and prevent these deaths from rising.
“The Government needs to wake up to the fact that cuts to services, disconnecting NHS mental health services from addiction services and shifting the focus away from harm reduction to abstinence-based recovery is destroying lives and fuelling the increase in drug-related deaths.”
The ONS figures show that the age standardised mortality rate – which accounts for age and population size – was 7.6 per 100,000 people across England between 2018-20, up from 7.1 between 2017-19.
In Buckinghamshire, this rate for the most recent three-year period was much lower, at 5.8 per 100,000.
The figure was higher for men in Buckinghamshire (7.7) than women (4.1).
The rates of drug related deaths in the most deprived areas of England were around five-and-a-half times higher than those in the least deprived parts.
Mark Moody, chief executive of the charity Change Grow Live, added: “For things to improve, we must directly challenge the stigma faced by people who use drugs.
“This starts by recognising that drug dependency is a chronic health condition which must be integrated alongside NHS services, criminal justice pathways and housing support.”
Of the deaths registered in England and Wales last year, 777 involved cocaine – a 9.7% rise from 2019 and more than five times the 144 registered in 2010.
The Government has said it will set up a new drugs unit to help end illegal drug-related illness and deaths.
A spokesman added: “We are already investing £148 million to tackle the root causes of drug misuse, including £80 million for treatment and recovery – the largest investment in the drug treatment system for 15 years.”