Charities have criticised the Government over a lack of action on drug deaths across England and Wales – which have reached another record high – with experts calling the latest figures an "utter disgrace".
They were among 4,859 drug poisoning deaths registered across England and Wales last year – the ninth consecutive rise and the highest number since records began more than a quarter of a century ago in 1993.
The figures cover drug abuse and dependence, fatal accidents, suicides and complications involving controlled and non-controlled drugs, prescription and over-the-counter medications.
Of the drug deaths recorded nationally last year, 3,060 (63%) were due to misuse, meaning they involved illegal drugs, or were a result of drug abuse or dependence – including 12 in Buckinghamshire.
Around half of the deaths registered nationally in 2021 will have occurred in previous years due to death registration delays, the ONS said.
Niamh Eastwood, executive director of Release, the national centre for drugs expertise, said every drug-related death is avoidable.
“It is an utter disgrace that we are again talking about record breaking drug deaths," she added.
"Drug deaths are a public health emergency across the UK that can and must be adequately addressed. Government inaction is a political choice."
She added that deaths will continue to rise without commitment to "serious policy reforms", such as the decriminalisation of possession and safe supply of all controlled drugs.
The ONS said the overall rising trend over the past decade has been driven primarily by deaths involving opiates, but also those involving other substances such as cocaine.
Just under half of the drug deaths registered across England and Wales last year involved an opiate.
Dr David Bremner, medical director for the substance abuse group at charity Turning Point, called for the Government to continue to invest in “life-saving” health, housing and social care services.
He said: “If these were cancer deaths increasing at this rate, we would expect action at a certain pace that I believe we should expect the same for persons with addiction."
The ONS figures show that the age standardised mortality rate – which accounts for age and population size – stood at 5.6 deaths per 100,000 people in Buckinghamshire between 2019 and 2021, below the rate for England, of 7.9.
A UK Government spokesman said its drug strategy will help rebuild drug treatment services and tackle criminal supply chains.
He added: “This will help to prevent nearly 1,000 deaths, deliver over 54,500 new treatment places – a 19% increase on current numbers – and support 24,000 more people into recovery from substance dependency.
“This funding is additional to the annual public health grant spend and builds on the £80 million put into treatment services in 2021 which worked to decrease drug-related deaths by helping services distribute more naloxone, which can help reverse opiate overdoses.”