THE story about the increase in deaths due to drug poisoning in 2020 should come as absolutely no surprise.

In October, 2019’s figures were released and they told exactly the same story: a long term rise with the North East suffering most.

The only difference between the 2019 story and the 2020 story is that in 2019, there were 95 deaths per million of population in the North-East compared with 33 per million in London whereas in 2020, there were 104.6 deaths per million.

The North-South divide is stark and it continues to grow.

It is shocking. In Darlington in 2010, there were four deaths from drug poisoning; in 2020, there were 16; in County Durham, the 40 deaths in 2010 had risen to 72 in 2020.

And it is not just drugs. The same story was told in March when the statistics concerning alcohol deaths in 2020 were released: they showed a 20 per cent rise over 2019 with the North East suffering the most.

And the responses to the figures are the same: frontline professionals blame a decade of cuts to addiction services while the Government claims it is giving local authorities record amounts of money.

While service provision clearly is an issue, there is also a fragmentation where mental health is not joined into the criminal system or even into general health or into social services, like housing. Consequently, people with problems fall through the cracks, and in time of pandemic, that fall is fatal.

The services need to be well funded and joined up, otherwise the same story will be reported next year, as well.