Published: 16:14, 16 August 2019
| Updated: 16:32, 16 August 2019
Sharp increases in deaths caused by the super-strength opioid fentanyl, which killed Deal teenager Robert Fraser, have stalled.
Campaigners say the saved lives are a victory for Robert's Law, a successful initiative for harsher sentencing over the drug.
It also bucks the current trend of steep rises in deaths from drugs overall in this country.
Official figures released yesterday show the number of deaths from the opioid, which is 50 times stronger than heroin, fell from 106 in 2017 to 105 in 2018.
It bucks a trend of significant increases in recent years.
There were 35 deaths recorded as caused by fentanyl or fentanyl analogues in 2015, which jumped to 59 in 2016, an increase of 69%.
That number rose again to 106 in 2017, an increase of 80%.
Robert's Law is the legacy of Robert Fraser of Deal, who died after taking the drug in 2016.
Longer sentences for supplying fentanyl were introduced last year, following the campaign led byRobert's mother, Michell Parry.
The Sentencing Council published new guidance in June 2018 putting even small quantities of the drug into the top sentencing category.
Dover and Deal MP Charlie Elphicke had campaigned with Ms Parry.
He now said: "Tougher sentencing works. The year-on-year increases of fentanyl deaths have finally stopped. Now we need to get things going in the other direction.
“It is an evil drug – incredibly powerful and most users don’t know they are taking it, because the dealer has added it for profit. We needed our justice system to recognise this particularly reckless form of criminality.
“Michelle deserves huge credit. She has fought bravely so that Robert has a legacy.
"She has delivered something positive from utter misery."
In the US deaths from fentanyl have also been rising steeply. There were more than 20,000 in 2016.
A trio from West Yorkshire were subject to the first major conviction last January after sentences were hardened.
They were jailed for a total 46 years, a record for fenanyl supply.
Two of the gang got more than 16 years each.
Ms Fraser said:“Deaths have been increasing rapidly in this country. We needed to find a way to reverse the trend – before it got out of hand like in America.
“Tougher punishments for fentanyl dealers was an important step – not just for me, but for every parent.
“Because if people know they face spending more than a decade behind bars, they will think twice about selling this poison.
“And now we can see that Robert’s Law is saving lives. That will be my boy’s legacy."
The Office of National Statistics says that drugs deaths overall rose sharply in England and Wales last year.
Therewere 2,917 deaths from illicit substances in England and Wales in 2018, an increase of 17%.
Most deaths were due to opiates such as heroin but cocaine fatalties doubled in three years.
Atotal 4,359 people died to drugs poisoning last year but that figure also includes accidental overdoses and suicides from medication.
That is also the biggest annual increase in drug deaths since recordsbegan in 1993.
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More by this authorSam Lennon