Worrying spike in drugs deaths in Yorkshire

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Drug related deaths in Yorkshire are at a record high, new figures show, as the purity of the most commonly used drugs like cocaine increases.

Government statistics, released yesterday, show that 297 deaths from drug poisonings were registered in Yorkshire in 2015, a figure up 50 per cent from 195 in 2014.

And as experts cite an increase in the purity of drugs like cocaine and heroin, a Barnsley mum who lost her son at the age of 26 is calling for more to be done to tackle the issue.

“This has to be tackled head on,” said Christine Hatton, 63 from Brierley, whose son Sam was killed by an overdose in November 2006. “If not, it’s only going to get worse.

“More and more young people are going to die when they don’t need to.”

Mrs Hatton, who trained as a substance misuse nurse in an effort to understand Sam’s heroin addiction in the years before his death, had worked at Kendray Hospital until it was shut down last year. The loss of services such as these, she says, is playing a big part while valuable charities like The Luke and Marcus Trust are the ones making a difference.

“Everything is down to cost,” she said. “The loss of life has got to be worth more than that.

“It’s 10 years since we lost Sam. It never goes away. And there are lots of families in the same position. It all seems such a meaningless, pointless, loss of life.”

Experts say the regional spike may be down to delays in registering deaths, but are also citing a worrying trend towards purer grade drugs like cocaine, used by two per cent of the population.

Rosanna O’Connor, of Public Health England, said: “Drug use is the fourth most common cause of death for those aged 15-49 in England. Reassuringly, overall drug use has declined and treatment services have helped many people to recover, but there is a need for an enhanced effort to ensure the most vulnerable can access treatment.”

Nationwide, there were 3,674 drug poisoning deaths registered in England and Wales in 2015, the highest since records began in 1993.

The figures for Yorkshire show a big difference between towns and cities, with the highest number of deaths registered between 2013 and 2015 in Leeds (120) and Sheffield (101).

The lowest numbers of registered deaths were in Richmondshire (one) and Craven (three).

The Government report has found that nationwide, deaths involving heroin or morphine doubled in three years to 1,201 in 2015. There were 320 deaths involving cocaine, up from 247 in the previous year, while deaths linked to new psychoactive substances - formerly known as ‘legal highs’ - have increased sharply, with 114 registered last year.

And the figures also showed that of those dying, the highest proportion were aged 30 to 39.

“Any death related to misuse of drugs is a tragedy,” a Department of Health spokesman said. “While overall drug use continues to decline, our approach is to get people off drugs for good, with decisions on treatment based on an individual’s clinical need. 'We are also developing a new strategy which will include help to educate young people about the risks.”