There were 2,917 deaths from illicit drugs in 2018, the Office of National Statistics said, a rise of 17%.
Most deaths were due to opiates such as heroin, but cocaine deaths doubled in three years and MDMA deaths were also at their highest ever level.
A government advisor blamed cuts to treatment programmes offering substitute drugs to addicts.
A total of 4,359 people died due to drug poisoning last year, the ONS said – a figure which includes accidental overdoses and suicides from medicinal drugs, as well as illicit drug use.
It was also the biggest annual increase in drug deaths since records began in 1993, the statisticians said.
Deaths from drug misuse among men aged between 40 and 49 rose “significantly”, they added.
The North East had the highest death rate in England, while London had the lowest.
Deaths from new psychoactive substances – known as “legal highs” until they were banned in 2016 – doubled in a year to 125, following a fall the previous year. MDMA deaths rose from 56 to 92.
Professor Alex Stevens from the University of Kent, who serves on the government’s advisory council on the misuse of drugs, said there had been a 47% increase in deaths from drug poisoning since 2013.
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