Sharp rise in drug deaths across West Midlands with isolation a factor

Deaths involving drugs are rising sharply in many areas of the West Midlands, new figures reveal.

The number of drug deaths in Wolverhampton saw a four-fold increase over 10 years, according to new figures released by the Office for National Statistics.

The figures show big increases in the number of deaths caused by drugs in most parts of the West Midlands, the exception being Telford, which saw a 42 per cent fall.

But while overall deaths from drug poisoning in the region rose by three quarters between 2010 and 2020, this masks wide disparities in how different areas of the West Midlands have been affected.

An addiction expert has said that the coronavirus lockdown could have led to more people turning to drugs.

Some of the highest percentage increases were in Staffordshire, although the numbers were relatively low to begin with. Lichfield, which saw just one drug death in 2010, experienced five fatalities last year, while the Stafford and South Staffordshire districts – which both had two deaths in 2010, saw the figure rise to nine each last year.

In Wolverhampton there were seven deaths in 2010, and the number actually fell to five in 2019. But last year saw a near six-fold increase in the number of fatalities as the death toll reached 29 – one of the worst figures in the region.

Cannock also saw a four-fold rise in the number of fatalities, up from three 11 years ago to 12 last year.

Sandwell, Walsall and the Shropshire Council area also saw big increases over the past decade, with the number of deaths in Sandwell rising from 12 in 2010 to 19 last year – up 58 per cent – and in Walsall and Shropshire from 11 to 18, up 63 per cent.

Telford & Wrekin, on the other hand, saw the number of deaths fall from 17 to 12 – the latest figure still represents an increase on 2019, though, when just nine deaths were recorded.

In Dudley, 13 deaths were recorded in 2010, rising to 17 in 2019, but falling back to 15 last year. Wyre Forest saw the number of deaths rise from four to seven.

The majority of drug poisoning deaths in the West Midlands had an opiate on the death certificate accounting for 248 of all deaths in the region.

But the report also reveals a concerning annual rise in the number of deaths where Benzodiazepines are listed on the death certificate, up from 42 in 2019 to 50 in 2020.

They also show 103 people died from Cocaine, 37 from Pregabalin – up from 24 the previous year – while deaths from antidepressants have almost doubled from 43 in 2019 to 76 in 2020.

Eytan Alexander, chief executive of drug addiction service Ukat, said: "It goes without saying that 2020 was a difficult year, but today’s report reveals the horrific fall-out from such a powerful ‘stay home’ message.

"Addicts living across the West Midlands with long-term drug dependency and abuse issues were forced into isolation and ultimately were unable to seek help or treatment that could have saved their lives, even though some services were there to help.

"We must remember that today's report is about mothers, fathers, grandparents, neighbours and friends who have died because of drugs. They have lost their lives in a year where everything other than the pandemic was swept to one side and put on hold.

“Trust me when I say that we won't stop until the Government announces an injection of protected funds into effective treatment programmes and that councils across the West Midlands are accountable for their communities' treatment outcomes.

"We're living in a parallel pandemic; a drug, alcohol and mental health pandemic that has only worsened due to the virus. Enough is enough now, we need to come together as a society and take real action to help vulnerable people before more people lose their lives."

Help, support and a free 24/7 live chat support service for drug abuse can be found at ukat.co.uk/drugs/v58.

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