Rise in deaths caused by drugs and alcohol across Yorkshire, figures from coroners show
Coroners in the region recorded 407 deaths in 2020 caused by alcohol and substance misuse, although the real figure could be higher.
The number rose from 356 the year before, and some experts have warned that the pandemic has exacerbated a national substance abuse crisis, with national figures showing the number last year to be the highest in seven years.
Coroners in Sheffield, who also oversee inquests for deaths in the Barnsley area, saw substance death figures nearly double last year with a rise from 58 to 93 such deaths last year, while West Yorkshire coroners covering the Leeds and Wakefield areas saw the highest overall death figure (113), but a slight drop from the year before when there were 122.
Most who died from deaths related to drugs or alcohol were men, the figures showed, although the number of women dying has increased over the years.
Lee Wilson, who is Director of the charities Forward Leeds and North Yorkshire Horizons supporting people battling alcoholism and substance abuse, said that while it was true more people had turned to drink during the pandemic, the long term impacts of this would not be known for some time.
"We've seen as an industry for the past few years now the number of deaths rising," he told The Yorkshire Post.
"One reason is that we have an ageing population of users coming to us later on by which point they are really unwell."
Some areas such as Sheffield, Mr Wilson said, were still seeing the impacts of austerity on drug and alcohol services, although services in Leeds like Forwards have been supported well by local authorities.
Last year, Leeds saw double the amount of people recovered from substance addictions when compared with similar services in Birmingham, Mr Wilson added.
However, the chief executive of Alcohol Change UK said there was still work to be done to understand the stark rise in deaths across England and Wales.
Dr Richard Piper suggested the pandemic could have contributed to people being more likely to consume alcohol, but less likely to seek help for problem drinking.
He added: “What is clear is that the crisis is deepening and millions of people are suffering as a result.
"If the UK is to recover from the pandemic, the Government must act.
“We need to have a comprehensive, strategic set of policies from the Government to tackle alcohol harm, including an alcohol care team in every NHS hospital that needs one, and sustainable funding for treatment services so that every one of us who is struggling has access to high-quality support when we need it."
A Government spokesman said systematically addressing the causes of preventable deaths and ill health via the new Office for Health Promotion was a priority, adding that the Government would invest £80m in drug treatment funding across 15 years.
He said: "Throughout the last year providers have continued to support and treat people misusing drugs and alcohol and we are supporting local authorities with over £3.3 billion in 2021-2022 to spend on public health services.
“Death from drugs and alcohol misuse can devastate lives and harm communities, and we will always work at a national and local level to tackle drug misuse, tighten controls on dangerous substances and widen the availability of treatments which prevent overdose deaths.”
As part of the NHS Long Term Plan, the Government is supporting efforts to establish or improve specialised Alcohol Care Teams in hospitals with the highest rates of alcohol harm.