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DRUG DEATHS: The rise of drug deaths across Teesside

Drug deaths across Teesside hit an all time high.

In 2020, 123 people in Middlesbrough, Hartlepool, Stockton-on-Tees, and Redcar and Cleveland died due to drugs, which is a significant increase from the 88 people in 2019.

The chair of the Health Scrutiny Panel and Conservative Group leader, David Coupe said: “You can help as many people as you like, and I am in favour of this, but the drug dealers will just find some other person to push things like that on so you have to have more ways, you need the carrot and the stick.

“The stick to say ‘we’ll catch you [drug dealers] and you’ll go away for a long time’ and the stick to say ‘look you are a victim of these drugs, we will help you’.

“You need to look at what the problem actually is and if it’s a supply problem in Middlesbrough to actually cut the serpent off at its head to try and stop some of the drugs coming in.

“We have to get the scourge away from Middlesbrough. I hate to think that Middlesbrough is known as a bad drugs capital but it is and depravity, unfortunately, comes with it.”

Cleveland Police launched Operation Endeavour in May 2021, to dismantle organised crime groups and by the end of June had seized £2m worth of drugs.

The Conservative councillor for Stainton and Thornton also said that he was pleased that funding had been found to keep the town’s Heroin Assisted Treatment (HAT) open, which had been a recommendation of the Health’s Scrutiny Panel’s report into opioid dependency in the Middlesbrough.

There were fears that the clinic could close in September after the new Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner Steve Turner vowed not to continue part-funding the scheme.

However, alternative funding has been sourced which has secured the clinic’s future until March 2022.

Crimestoppers has also recently launched a campaign to help fight drug crime and is calling for people in Middlesbrough to come forward if they spot any signs of criminality

‘People are dying and it is not necessary’

In light of recent figures, the CEO of a drug rehabilitation organisation has urged for more empathy when dealing with addicts in need of support.

The CEO of the UK Addiction Treatment Group (UKAT), Eytan Alexander, said that there needs to be more help for people dealing with addiction.

He added: “People are dying and it is not necessary. Really, things need to be tackled two-fold.

“At UKAT we go into schools and we have a programme where we try to educate and look at what can happen and what is going on, there is that side of things.

“But on the other side, there are people in crisis who need services that they can access.

“What we had seen well before the pandemic was that we were full. We have close to 200 residential beds that can do detoxes.

“It’s difficult and if the support was there, people don’t have to die because each percentage that figure [drug-related deaths] goes up is people’s lives, so, therefore, something needs to be addressed.”

Mr Alexander added that the pandemic has created the perfect conditions for addicts as it has resulted in a lot of time alone.

He said: “Addiction wants you to be by yourself, alone and miserable because generally the addict will try and hide everything if it gets out of hand.

“All of a sudden, you’re at home alone, by yourself, working from home.

“If you suffer from addiction, then what this does is it increases the problem exponentially because it has the perfect ground to get yourself to that place where you justify to yourself that you’re ok.

“Then what starts happening is when things start easing you can’t cope, the anxiety comes in and then you start having to lie and all of a sudden you start bingeing and that is when drug deaths happen.”

Mr Alexander believes that there is a ‘lack of empathy’ around addicts and that they are often seen as a problem – whether that’s ‘clogging up a hospital bed’ or just general frustration around why people can’t just stop.

What is the picture across Teesside?

Teesside has seen the highest levels of drug-related deaths since records began in 1993 in 2020.

In Hartlepool, 32 people died of drug poisoning (which is all drug-related deaths including drug misuse) in 2020 compared to 16 people in 2019, while Redcar and Cleveland saw 26 deaths in 2020 with 16 the year before.

Middlesbrough ranked highest with 35 deaths, up one from the previous year, while Stockton on Tees had 30 deaths in 2020 compared to 22 in 2019.

In total, this means that there were 123 drug deaths across the four council areas in 2020, a rise of 35, as there were 88 in 2019.

However, when just looking at drug misuse figures, which only includes illegal substances rather than deaths caused by legal substances like prescription medication or paracetamol, the number of deaths in Middlesbrough went from 24 in 2019 to 19 in 2020.

Deaths also fell in Redcar and Cleveland from 13 to 12 but increased in Hartlepool from 13 to 19 and in Stockton-on-Tees from 16 to 17.

Although, if it is not clear what the substance is that caused someone’s death then it will be classed as drug poisoning meaning that the drug misuse death statistics are often an underestimate.

‘We are committed to doing all we can in trying to prevent future tragedies’

Due to the high rates of drug use in Middlesbrough, it is one of just five Project ADDER – which stands for Addiction, Diversion, Disruption, Enforcement and Recovery – areas in the country.

This means that Middlesbrough will be able to take advantage of £4.5m worth of Government investment over the next two and a half years which is being delivered by South Tees Public Health and Cleveland Police.

Middlesbrough Project ADDER programme manager Jonathan Bowden said: “The rate of drug-related deaths continues to rise nationally and is especially prevalent in the North East.

“These are preventable deaths, which deeply affect families and our communities.

“Following years of budget constraints, we are now in a position where dedicated funding is available to invest into specialist support.

“This will make a real difference to many people, particularly those most vulnerable to the negative consequences of drugs.”

Mr Bowden agreed with UKAT that Covid had worsened the situation for addicts.

He added: “The pandemic has made difficult situations worse for many people.

“Issues such as isolation and financial uncertainty have increased the vulnerability of people with a history of problems linked to drug use.

“In addition to our existing work, Project ADDER and other funded programmes will help us to address this issue more effectively.

“We are committed to doing all we can in trying to prevent future tragedies.”

North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust is also working with local partners to try and prevent drug deaths.

Medical director Deepak Dwarakanath said: “We treat patients with drug dependencies all too regularly. By the time we are caring for these patients, they are very unwell and, sadly, we do experience some drug-related deaths.

“The key to helping people is through preventative work at the earliest stages – providing education about how to live well and supporting people to live a healthy life.

“We work with health partners across the Tees Valley to ensure we are helping provide this help and support to our community.”

Help, support and a free 24/7 live chat support service for drug abuse can be found at www.ukat.co.uk/drugs/v58/

You can contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or via the website, crimestoppers-uk.org. 

Written by Emily Craigie, Local Democracy Reporter


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