The number of people dying from drug use in the North East has risen to its highest level ever.
New official statistics show there were 903 deaths as a result of drug poisoning in the North East over a three year period, from 2016 to 2018.
That’s up from 690 deaths in the three years before that, from 2013 to 2015. It’s an increase of 30%.
More men died than women, with 636 deaths among males and 267 among females.
The highest number of recorded deaths was in County Durham, where 153 were recorded during the three year period. There were 108 deaths in Newcastle.
But areas with the highest mortality rate – once the size of the population is taken into account – include Gateshead, where there were 14.6 deaths as a result of drug poisoning for every 100,000 people in the population.
Experts say the explanation for the increase include increased availability of heroin, due to a period of relative peace in Afghanistan.
But they also highlight cuts to drug and alcohol treatment services.
A survey by addiction treatment firm UKAT found that of North East Councils that responded, £35.7 million was being spent on helping those struggling with addiction back in 2013 while the number has dropped to £27.2 million this financial year.
UKAT Managing Director Eytan Alexander said: “Today’s Office for National Statistics figures are saddening but unsurprising. We’ve highlighted the drastic reduction in budget cuts to substance misuse services every year since 2013 and unfortunately, these figures now show the impact this is having on the most vulnerable people living across the North East.
“It cannot be coincidence that as councils here slash drug and alcohol treatment budgets by £8 million over 6 years, the highest number of people on record lose their lives to drugs. We urge councils across the North East to invest in effective drug and alcohol services next year to avoid more loss of life.”
Gateshead MP Ian Mearns said: “I’m said to say I’m neither shocked nor surprised to see the numbers have increased. Unfortunately, we are seeing out on the streets people who are clearly under the influence of drugs.
“It’s quite clear that we do need more than a criminal justice response to this. There’s got to be much more of a public health response, as well as the police trying to tackle the hard edge of the drugs trade at the same time.
“The amount of money going into public health has been dramatically reduced in our region by the Government. That’s had a major impact on alcohol, tobacco and drug cessation services.”
Nationwide, drug-related deaths are the highest they have been since records began more than a quarter of a century ago.
There were 4,359 deaths from drug poisoning recorded in England and Wales in 2018 – the highest number since records began in 1993, the Office for National Statistics said.
The official body said it was also the highest annual increase since records began, rising 16% (603 deaths) from 2017.
More than half of the deaths involved an opiate (2,208 deaths), while deaths from new psychoactive substances, or legal highs, doubled in a year to 125.
And deaths involving cocaine doubled over the three years to 2018, reaching their highest ever level.
Dr Emily Finch, vice-chair of the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ addictions faculty, said the rise should be a “wake-up call” to the Government that cuts have “starved” drug misuse services of money and are risking lives.
She said: “National decision makers need to wake up to the fact that swingeing cuts to services, disconnecting NHS mental health services from addiction services and shifting the focus away from harm reduction to abstinence-based recovery is destroying lives and fuelling the increase in drug-related deaths.”