‘Utter disgrace’ - drug-related deaths hit record high in parts of Merseyside

Charities have criticised the Government over a lack of action on drug deaths across England and Wales.
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Drug-related deaths in England and Wales have hit record levels, according to new figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

And it is a pattern that has been repeated across a number of the boroughs in Merseyside.

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The ONS data up to 2021 shows that Sefton and St Helens recorded their highest ever rate of drug poisoning deaths last year. With dozens of deaths also recorded in Liverpool and Wirral.

The latest UK figures on drug deaths

There were 4,859 deaths related to drug poisoning registered in 2021 in England and Wales, an increase of 6.2% compared with the previous year.

This is the highest number of drug-related deaths since records began in 1993 and the ninth consecutive yearly rise - also a record.

The figures cover drug abuse and dependence, fatal accidents, suicides and complications involving controlled and non-controlled drugs, prescription and over-the-counter medications.

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Of the drug deaths recorded nationally last year, 3,060 (63%) were due to misuse, meaning they involved illegal drugs, or were a result of drug abuse or dependence.

How is Merseyside affected?

The North East is the worst affected region in the country, however, drug-related deaths in the North West continue to increase.

In Merseyside, there were 192 drug-related deaths registered in 2021, compared with 196 in 2020.

Although a slight drop on the year, the number of deaths registered in 2021 is still 27.1% higher than 2019 and 74.% higher than a decade ago.

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Looking at the Merseyside boroughs, drug-related deaths rose to a record high in Sefton last year with 48 deaths registered. That was up from 28 the previous year, and the highest number since records began more than a quarter of a century ago in 1993.

Twenty-six deaths were due to misuse, meaning they involved illegal drugs, or were a result of drug abuse or dependence.

There was also a record high in St Helens, where 33 deaths related to drug poisoning were registered in 2021, up from 18 the previous year. Twenty three were due to misuse.

Liverpool had the highest number of drug-related deaths at 60 (47 due to misuses) in Merseyside last year but this was down from 89 the previous year.

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In Wirral, there was a drop from 44 deaths in 2020 to 37 last year (29 due to misuses). In Knowsley the figures also decreased with 14 deaths in 2021 (six due to misuse) comapred to 17 the year before.

What’s been said

Niamh Eastwood, executive director of Release, the national centre for drugs expertise, said every drug-related death is avoidable.

“It is an utter disgrace that we are again talking about record breaking drug deaths,” she added.

“Drug deaths are a public health emergency across the UK that can and must be adequately addressed. Government inaction is a political choice.”

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She added that deaths will continue to rise without commitment to “serious policy reforms”, such as the decriminalisation of possession and safe supply of all controlled drugs.

Dr David Bremner, medical director for the substance abuse group at charity Turning Point, called for the Government to continue to invest in “life-saving” health, housing and social care services.

He said: “If these were cancer deaths increasing at this rate, we would expect action at a certain pace that I believe we should expect the same for persons with addiction.”

A UK Government spokesman said its drug strategy will help rebuild drug treatment services and tackle criminal supply chains.

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He added: “This will help to prevent nearly 1,000 deaths, deliver over 54,500 new treatment places – a 19% increase on current numbers – and support 24,000 more people into recovery from substance dependency.

“This funding is additional to the annual public health grant spend and builds on the £80 million put into treatment services in 2021 which worked to decrease drug-related deaths by helping services distribute more naloxone, which can help reverse opiate overdoses.”

Seeking support for drug issues

There are many charities across Merseyside offering free support and services for those struggling with drugs and alcohol abuse, including WithYou, Addaction and Genie in the Glitter.

Jon Murray, Executive Director of Services at With You said: “Behind each death are stories of people who have experienced extreme trauma and resilience, have been dealt a difficult hand and did their best to survive.

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“Each one of these deaths is preventable and we know that with the right support, every person can recover. This is a very challenging day for our service users, staff and volunteers who work tirelessly to provide help and support, and our thoughts are with them.”