150 drug deaths make County Durham highest in North East, figures reveal

More than 150 people died from drug poisoning in County Durham over the last two years, new figures have revealed.

Sunday, 18th August 2019, 08:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 20th August 2019, 01:05 am
County Durham had the highest number of drug deaths. Picture by PA.

This week, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) released data on drug-related deaths between 2016 and 2018.

County Durham’s death toll was 153 – the highest in the North East.

And since 2013, recorded drug deaths in the area have risen from 141 to 153 – a rise of almost 10%.

Director of public health on the council, Amanda Healy, said the council would continue to provide resources for the specialist services.

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This also includes a funding boost to increase Naloxone for Durham Constabulary – a medication used to block the effects of opioids, especially in overdoses.

Since the ONS figures were published, addiction experts have raised concerns about rising deaths across the North East as a whole.

This includes a 30% rise in drug poisoning deaths in the last five years with the percentage of men dying from drugs rocketing from 473 to 636 and women from 217 to 267.

Health firm UK Addiction Treatment (UKAT) have since blamed council budget cuts to drug and alcohol treatment services for the rise in deaths.

Managing director of UKAT, Eytan Alexander, said the North East figures were “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.” he said.

For many councils, uncertainty remains around the future of public health funding – which is linked to alcohol and drug misuse services.

This includes a proposed change in funding formula that decides the amount of public health funds councils receive.

As previously reported, the changes could see Durham County Council lose millions of pounds from its grant.

Last year, director of public health on the council, Amanda Healy, said the authority could be the “worst affected in England”.

Despite budget pressures, health bosses have pledged to invest into the key services in future years.

Amanda Healy added: “Despite the continued uncertainty surrounding local government funding, in particular our public health grant which is under threat, we are continuing to invest in our Drug and Alcohol Recovery Service to support those in County Durham with a substance problem.

“We have also funded an increase in naloxone provision for Durham Constabulary.

“It’s important to note that our age-standardised mortality rates for drugs deaths are below the North East average.

“But, any death is one too many and we are committed to helping people getting the support they need.

“We will continue to work with our partner organisations to help people in the county live a substance-free life.”

County Durham’s mortality rate for drug deaths stands at 10.5 per 100,000 population – which is below the North East rate of 12.1.