Deaths involving new psychoactive substances continue to increase in 2016. (Published 2 August 2017)
The mortality rate from deaths involving NPS is very low compared with heroin and/or morphine (2.1 deaths per 1 million population compared with 21.3 per 1 million respectively). However, deaths involving NPS have increased sharply over the past 5 years, with 123 deaths registered in 2016 (up from 114 deaths registered in 2015 and an 8% increase).

Moreover, 39 of the NPS-related deaths in 2016 involved NPS drugs that were not controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act at the time of death. The government introduced the Psychoactive Substances Actin 2016, which established a blanket ban on the importation, production or supply of most psychoactive substances. However, it is likely to be several years before our data shows whether this ban has had any effect on deaths involving NPS.

Deaths involving mephedrone decrease whilst deaths involving synthetic cannabinoids increase in 2016.
Reference table 8 gives the number of deaths involving specific types of NPS. Deaths involving mephedrone decreased from 44 deaths in 2015 to 15 deaths in 2016, the lowest recorded since 2012. Public Health England’s 2016 Adult Substance Misuse report shows that the number of people presenting to drug treatment services for mephedrone misuse decreased from 2,024 in 2014 to 2015 to 1,647 in 2015 to 2016.

In addition, the Home Office Crime Survey for England and Wales 2015 to 2016 states that mephedrone use fell in those aged 16 to 59 years, largely driven by a fall in use among young adults aged 16 to 24 years.

There is a more detailed discussion of the relationship between mephedrone use and mephedrone deaths in our special article on Deaths involving legal highs in England and Wales.

There has been growing concern in recent years about the harms caused and violence linked to the use of synthetic cannabinoids, such as “spice”, particularly in prisons, as detailed in the HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales annual 2015 to 2016 report. Our data shows there being only a small number of deaths mentioning synthetic cannabinoids.

There is no officially agreed list of substances that are categorised as NPS, but we include the following types of substances:
gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) and its precursor gamma-butyrolactone (GBL)
piperazines
cathinones such as mephedrone
benzofurans
prescription-type drugs, for example, benzodiazepine analogues

All drugs included in our definition for the purposes of this bulletin are listed in the “Definition” tab of the reference tables. Additional NPS will be added to the list in future years, as and when they are identified in the drug-related deaths data. We welcome comments on the drugs included in this category.

Source: Office for national statistics