Hospitals see rapid rise in patient admissions for illegal drug use

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Soaring numbers of people are ending up in hospital for illicit drug poisoning, new figures indicate.

There were rises in admissions across all age groups, including for patients aged 75 and over, which more than doubled in 10 years.

In 2015/16, there were 15,074 hospital admissions with a primary diagnosis of poisoning by illicit drugs in England.

The tally is 51% higher than the 10,012 recorded in 2005/06, and up by 6% on the previous year.

There were particularly sharp jumps in cases of people in older age categories. 

From 2005/06 to 2015/16, admissions of 45 to 54-year-olds for illicit drug poisoning more than doubled from 973 to 2,312.

In the 55 to 64 bracket, the number jumped from 394 to 903. There was a rise from 185 to 510 for 65 to 74-year-olds and from 279 to 575 for people aged 75 and over.

Despite these increases, almost two-thirds of patients were aged between 16 and 44 last year. 

The figures, published by NHS Digital, show there were 831 admissions of children aged under 16 for illicit drug poisoning in 2015/16.

There has also been a rise in hospital admissions with a primary diagnosis of drug-related mental health and behavioural disorders.

The number stood at 8,621 last year, an increase of more than a tenth (11%) compared with a decade earlier.

Admissions do not represent the number of in-patients as a person may have more than one admission within the year.

The findings chime with separate figures that have shown drug-related deaths at record levels.

Statistics released last year showed fatalities involving heroin and cocaine were at the highest since comparable records started in 1993, with experts pointing to rising purity as a possible factor behind the trend.

Increases in drug-related hospital admissions and deaths are set against a backdrop of falling prevalence of illegal drug use. 

Around one in 12 (8.4%) adults aged 16 to 59 in England and Wales had taken an illicit drug in the last year in 2015/16 - compared to 10.5% a decade earlier.