SUPPORT agencies across County Durham are creating a “united front” in the battle to prevent young people being carried into drug-related activity in the region.

Within a report from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) published earlier this week, the North East topped a worrying trend, which placed it highest for drug-related deaths over the last two years.

Between 2019 and this month, 150 young people have lost their lives to drug poisoning – a figure that has put the North East above every other region across the UK for the last eight years.

READ MORE North East has highest drug deaths in England

Since the ONS report was published, youth workers and support groups across County Durham have moved to insist that drug misuse among 12–18-year-old’s is “under control”, despite the stark drug poisoning numbers.

SWITCH – Substance Misuse Team, based in Darlington, which is run in partnership with the borough council, are just one agency that have committed to taking young people and teenagers from drug-related activity and giving them an outlet to thrive inside and outside of school.

Talking to The Northern Echo, SWITCH and Darlington Borough Council highlighted that they haven’t seen any evidence of any significant changes in attitudes or behaviours in relation to substance misuse in young people in Darlington.

The two agencies also claimed that the proportion of young people in Darlington who have used substances, including alcohol, is “very small compared to those who have not”, before going on to say that the “perception of young people is that substance use is much greater than the reality”.

Councillor Jonathan Dulston, deputy leader of Darlington Borough Council, added: "Helping to educate our young people around the dangers of falling into drug misuse is a responsibility we as a Council take very seriously. I'm proud there is a lot of good work being done to work towards this goal."

The Northern Echo: Deputy leader of Darlington Borough Council, Councillor Jonathan Dulston.Deputy leader of Darlington Borough Council, Councillor Jonathan Dulston.

These comments from SWITCH and the Borough Council comes a month after national charity, Bernardo’s, ran a study that highlighted vulnerable children are at high risk of becoming victims of child exploitation, but police and other agencies don’t have the resources to protect them.

Within the UK-wide research, 2020 saw the number of children involved in drug activity grow from 23,710 in 2019 to 29,170 last year.

READ MORE Substance abuse puts more North-East children in need

The study also found that organised crime gangs used busier public spaces to not arouse suspicion, as well as forcing young people coerced into carrying drugs to wear delivery uniforms – allowing them to hide under the guise of legitimate activities.

To stop further damage and exploitation, Bernardo’s has urged the Government for a reform of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, as well as increasing funding for youth services.

The Northern Echo: Durham Police and Crime Commissioner, Joy Allen. Durham Police and Crime Commissioner, Joy Allen.

Durham Police and Crime Commissioner, Joy Allen, has also called for a reduction in these “worrying numbers” through working with the police and other frontline services.

She said: “I am going to work closely with Durham Constabulary to disrupt the organised crime groups responsible for supplying drugs and all of the layers of criminality they bring with it – in particular, the exploitation of young people involved in County Lines.

“I am keen to continue the work that has already been achieved in County Durham and Darlington to reduce the impact of substance misuse harm. My office, together with Durham Constabulary, built a partnership with the local public health team and substance misuse provider and pioneered a project to widen the availability of naloxone, a medication used to reverse opioid overdose, to reach vulnerable communities.” 

The Northern Echo: The Home Office have committed to a long-term drug strategy to tackle the issue. The Home Office have committed to a long-term drug strategy to tackle the issue.

In response to the regional concern for drug misuse among young people, a representative for the Government has said that it's currently working on a long-term drug strategy, which will combat drug activity nationally and locally.  

A Home Office Spokesperson said: “Drugs destroy lives, tear families and communities apart, and line the pockets of serious criminals. We are committed to cracking down on drug use, supporting people through treatment and recovery, and tackling the supply of illegal drugs.

“The Government has committed to publishing a long-term drug strategy by the end of the year as well as support an expansion of drug testing on arrest by police forces.

“The strategy will present a whole-system approach to drive down drug supply and demand, including support for people through treatment and recovery and a tougher approach to criminals who are pedalling these harmful substances.”

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