Drug deaths hit four-year high across Suffolk

Deaths due to heroin and morphine misuse have risen year on year. PICTURE: Paul Faith/PA Wire

Across England and Wales, registered drug deaths rose 3.8% to 4,561 in 2020 - Credit: PA

Drug deaths hit a four-year high across Suffolk during 2020 – reaching a total surpassed once since recorded data began in 1993.  

There were 46 drug poisoning deaths across the county – compared to 44 in 2019 and the most since 2016. 

Almost three in five (27) were related to drug misuse – where the underlying cause was drug abuse or dependence, or the substances involved were controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act.

Responding to the data, Clare Taylor, national director of operations at Turning Point, said that a decade of austerity and cuts to public services, and the rise in drug related deaths, should not be seen in isolation.

Suffolk County Council said the rate of drug misuse deaths had risen from 3.4 per 100,000 between 2017 and 2019 to just 3.7 per 100,000 in 2018/19 – and that relatively low numbers in each pooled three-year period led to fluctuations and wide confidence intervals over time.

It said coding changes over the last decade meant figures since 2011 were not directly comparable with previous years.

In a joint statement with Turning Point's Suffolk Recovery Network, the county council said: “Thankfully, we have not seen the increases that have been seen in some other parts of the country. However, even one death is too many and our thoughts are with anyone who has lost someone this way.

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“Every drug or alcohol related death is preventable. We know that treatment works and this is the best way to protect against drug related deaths.

"Turning Point services have remained open throughout the pandemic. In fact, we have seen numbers in treatment increase by 6.5% over the past 10 months. We have worked hard to make sure Naloxone (an opioid blocker used to reverse the effects of an overdose) is widely available."

The majority of deaths took place in East Suffolk (19), followed by West Suffolk (10), Babergh and Mid Suffolk (six).

Only Ipswich bucked the trend, as numbers fell from 15 to five – the lowest since 2014.

Across England and Wales, registered drug deaths rose 3.8% to 4,561 in 2020.

Males accounted for more than two-thirds of registered drug poisonings, while rates of drug misuse death continued to be elevated among those born in the 1970s.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said the overall trend was driven primarily by deaths involving opiates, but also by an increase in deaths involving other substances like cocaine.

Possible explanations include an ageing cohort of drug users, new trends in taking specific drugs alongside heroin or morphine, disengagement or non-compliance with opiate substitute therapy, increasing prevalence in cocaine use, and that both cocaine and heroin have been highly available, cheap and pure in recent years.

The overall national rise, to the highest level since records began, was labelled a "public health emergency" by substance misuse service providers. 

In January, the government announced £148 million to cut crime and protect people from the harms caused by illegal drugs. 

The announcement included £80m for treatment and recovery services – the largest increase in drug treatment funding in 15 years.

For help with drug or alcohol misuse, call Turning Point on 0300 123 0872, email Suffolk@turning-point.co.uk or visit wellbeing.turning-point.co.uk/suffolk.

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