Cannabis downgrade coincides with drug deaths rise
30th August 2006
Drug deaths spiralled
after Labour downgraded cannabis, it has been revealed.
The number of people
killed by overdoses surged by almost 15 per cent in the
Critics had warned that
the decision to reclassify cannabis from Class B to C in
January 2004, meaning simple possession was unlikely to
lead to arrest, would lead to a surge in the use of all
An internal Downing
Street report later admitted that people trying cannabis
had been lured on to deadly harder drugs.
As a result, deaths from
heroin, cocaine and Ecstasy all rocketed figures from
the Office of National Statistics showed yesterday.
The increase meant the
Government failed to meet its target of reducing drug
deaths by a fifth between 1999 and 2004. Before the
reclassification of cannabis, it was on course to do so
Tory spokesman Edward
Garnier said: 'Labour continues to fail to deal with the
scourge of drugs.
'Drugs take lives and
tear apart communities. They also undermine all our
efforts to combat crime. The Government needs to get an
urgent grip on this problem but so far all we have had
is a chaotic and confused approach that gives the
impression it is OK to take drugs.'
Mary Brett, of the Europe
Against Drugs campaign, said it appeared much more than
simple coincidence that the alarming rise in deaths had
followed the downgrading of cannabis.
She said: 'Cannabis is a
gateway drug, most people agree that now. A person
smokes it and they are then far more likely to go on to
take a harder drug. The Government will no doubt come up
with excuses as to why the number of deaths has
increased, saying the drugs were stronger.
But that cannot be the
whole explanation. 'It is a significant increase and how
many of those who died were, for example, first-time
In 1999, the Government
promised to reduce drug deaths by 20 per cent over the
next five years. Following the pledge, the numbers fell
each year, from 1,571 in 1999, to 1,255 in 2003. At this
point, the target was hit a year early. But in 2004 the
death toll suddenly shot up by 14 per cent, to 1,427.
The number of heroin
deaths was up from 591 in 2003 to 744, cocaine from 113
to 147 and Ecstasy from 33 to 48.
The Health Department
said last night that, despite the rise in deaths last
year, there had been a nine per cent reduction overall
Within the total,
however, there was a 67 per cent increase in cocaine
deaths, from 88 in 1999 to 147, and Ecstasy fatalities
were up 85 per cent, from 26 to 48. Both figures reflect
The department has now
reconvened its Drug Related Deaths Steering Group, a
panel of experts which will produce a plan of action
later this year on how to reduce the toll.