THE Government has been urged to “wake up” to the “public health emergency” of drug-related deaths after new figures showed the North East had the highest number in the country.

Shocking analysis shows the region experienced the highest rate of deaths in 2020 – 104.6 deaths per million - three times higher than the lowest rate, which was in London.

Drug-poisoning deaths have reached the highest number since records began, and in the North East they rose by 17 per cent in 2020 compared to 2019 and by 127 per cent in the last decade.

It comes as drug addiction and recovery charities called for more funding and education around drug safety following years of cuts. Humankind, which provides a drug recovery service throughout County Durham, said up to 1,000 people had joined its service during the last year, but dozens of others are tragically not turning to support. 

The charity issued an impassioned plea last night by saying, "don’t be afraid, we will do everything we can for you". 

A report from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that in 2020, drug-poisoning deaths across the North East reached a record high of 389, up from 332 in 2019 and up from just 171 in 2010.

County Durham’s 72 drug-related deaths were the highest in the region, and a stark increase from 48 the previous year.

Deaths increased by two to 16 in Darlington while in Teesside, there were 123 deaths across the four local authorities.

The rates of drug related deaths for males and females in the most deprived areas of England were around five-and-a-half times higher than those in the least deprived parts, creating a north-south divide in rates of deaths due to drug misuse.

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Phil Ransome, area manager at Humankind County Durham, said the North East topping the list isn’t a surprise due to a lack of funding and education, but also years of deprivation.

“I think there has been an increase in people turning to alcohol and substances during the pandemic due to their declining mental health,” he said.

“There’s been a number of people who passed away who were not known to services which highlights the need for more funding for services to deliver education, guidance and support into the effects of substances. “

Humankind work out of Bishop Auckland, Durham and Peterlee and can offer help to anyone needing support.

Mr Ransome said the past year and a half during the pandemic has seen a large increase in referrals for people of all ages.

He added: “We’ve seen people reaching out for support, and in County Durham we have supported up to a thousand adults to become well again.

“Our referrals have increased because of the now less intrusive ways of supporting people being out there.

“We are open access, we will help and we want to help. Don’t be afraid, we will do everything we can for you.

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There were 4,561 deaths related to drug poisoning registered in England and Wales in 2020, the ONS said.

The highest rate of drug misuse deaths was found in those aged 45 to 49, followed by those aged 40 to 44

The figures follow a landmark review by Dame Carol Black, which set out 30 recommendations to Government to help overcome drug harm and called for significant investment in England’s treatment and recovery system.

The Government has said it will set up a new drugs unit to help end illegal drug-related illness and deaths, and has launched a consultation to improve access to naloxone, which helps reverse the effects of opioid overdose.

Eytan Alexander, a recovering addict and chief executive of the UK Addiction Treatment Group, said the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the issue.

He said: “We won’t stop until the Government announces an injection of protected funds into effective treatment programmes.”

Help, support and a free 24/7 live chat support service for drug abuse can be found at 

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