Drug deaths across the region at their highest in five years
- Credit: PA
A leading public health charity has called for more investment in substance misuse prevention, after deaths related to drugs in the region soared.
The new figures, released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed the most dramatic rise in East Anglia was in Norfolk where drugs deaths rocketed by 73pc between 2010-12 and 2014-16.
It showed 138 people died as a consequence of drug misuse across Norfolk alone between 2014-16. In 2010-12, this was only 80.
In Suffolk there was a 22pc rise, from 69 people in 2010-12 to 84 people in 2014-16. And in Cambridgeshire there was a 30pc rise, from 50 people in 2010-12 to 65 in 2014-16.
The new data fuelled concern the Government's decision to remove the ring-fenced drug and alcohol treatment budget in 2012 has had the negative impact on vulnerable people.
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Ed Morrow, drugs policy lead at charity the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), said: 'While the UK Government stubbornly refuses to make meaningful moves towards a more progressive, public health-based approach to drug policy, and while local authority treatment budgets continue to be cut, it should come as no surprise that drug deaths in England and Wales are continuing to rise.'
But the Norfolk Recovery Partnership - which delivers drug and alcohol services in the county - said it had seen an increase in the mixing of drugs, stronger substances and the use of drugs such as Spice.
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Denise Grimes, NRP service operations manager, said: 'The average age of the people we treat for drug use issues has increased in recent years. As a consequence, we are now seeing people with more complex physical and mental health issues, which can increase their risk of harm when they use drugs.
'The average purity of heroin has increased from 10 to 45pc since 2010 and typically death from drug use is more common when drug purity is higher or it is mixed with other substances.'
She also said more prisoners were using the synthetic cannabinoid Spice.
• Nationally, for the facts and information on treatment options for drug addiction, visit www.ukat.co.uk/drug-addiction/ or call 0203 811 3387.
A Norfolk County Council spokesman said the rise in drug-related deaths was a 'worrying trend, both nationally and locally'.
He said: 'We aim to work with partners to tackle that trend here in Norfolk and to ensure that residents can access high quality treatment.
'The causes of drug related deaths are complex. One of the important factors may be that heroin users are growing older and developing a range of mental and physical health problems which can make them more vulnerable, for example, to dying from an overdose.
'To reduce drug related deaths, we're taking action on a number of fronts. One of these is our current procurement of a new adult drug and alcohol treatment service that will meet clients' changing needs. We also want to help people to get their lives back by helping with issues like employment, housing and family relationships – which in turn can help prevent a return to drug use.
'We're also working to increase the provision of take-home Naloxone, a drug that helps to counteract an opioid overdose.'
Suffolk County Council were also looking to ensure Naloxone was widely available, in partnership with Turning Point, which delivers drug and alcohol treatment in the county.
Councillor Tony Goldson, cabinet member for health, said: 'Any death which is preventable is naturally tragic and therefore Public Health Suffolk are taking steps to slow the trajectory of this trend. We have already established a multi-agency group, utilising expertise from across many organisations in touch with drug users, to look more closely at this issue with a shared vision of decreasing the numbers of drug related deaths across Suffolk.'
Charities fill funding gap
Jamie Blyth, from charity Focus 12 said the approach to drugs needed to turn its attention to education.
The charity operates throughout East Anglia, working in the community with those addicted to alcohol and drugs.
Mr Blyth said: 'I'm not surprised by the figures, but it does only look at drugs and alcohol is a big issue too.
'It's a product of the upward trend in the drugs available.
'For example there are more psychoactive substances and fentanyl, which is like a extremely strong heroin.
'What we should be doing is building awareness, we're very keen to erase the stigma of addiction.'
But he added there should also be more money invested, as charities fill the gap left by health services.
'Funding is being cut, we don't receive any government funding as a charity,' he added.
• Contact Focus 12 on email@example.com or call 01284 701702.