The UK has one of the highest numbers of drug-related deaths in the world, a report has shown.

Drugs were the primary cause of death in 2,278 cases in the UK in 2008, the highest number for any country in west or central Europe, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said.

Most of these deaths were caused by opioids, followed by sedatives, cocaine, amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) and ecstasy.

The UK was ranked sixth in the world in terms of the number of drug-related deaths, with only the United States, the Ukraine, the Russian Federation, Iran and Mexico having more, the latest UNODC figures published in its annual report showed.

In Europe, the UK, the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Spain and Germany account for 80% of all drug-related deaths, with around one in 10 taking place in the UK, the figures showed.

The UN report also found that while overall drug use across the world remained stable, "demand soared for substances not under international control" - so-called "legal highs".

"The generally positive trends for the 'traditional' drugs, however, do not apply to all illicit drug markets," the report said.

"These markets continue to evolve and every year new products, not under control, are manufactured to supply an increasingly diversified demand for psychoactive substances."

Yury Fedotov, executive director of the UNODC, warned that soaring production, trafficking and consumption of ATS accompanied by a resurgence in opium cultivation and heroin trafficking were a serious concern in south-east Asia.

"The gains we have witnessed in the traditional drugs market are being offset by a fashion for synthetic 'designer drugs' mimicking illegal substances," he said.

"The Golden Triangle is not just about opium any more; it's a business that caters to consumers.

"The international community seems to have taken its eye off the ball on drug control in south-east Asia.

"We have to be proactive on all fronts before the region again becomes a major drugs hub."

Crime prevention minister Baroness Angela Browning said: "This report demonstrates the need for a renewed focus in dealing with the global drugs market to properly protect our communities from these dangerous substances.

"That's why we are creating a new border policing command as part of the National Crime Agency to better tackle international drug gangs.

"Our law enforcement agencies are already working closely with international partners to prevent drugs reaching our streets in the first place.

"Alongside this, our Drug Strategy sets out plans to introduce temporary banning powers and robust treatment programmes that will lead people into drug free recovery."

She added that, in the year to March 2011, the UK Border Agency (UKBA) seized 1,951kg of cocaine/crack, 473kg of heroin, and 1,012kg of other class A drugs.

UKBA officials also seized 1,301kg of class B drugs and 6,403kg of class C drugs.