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Norfolk drug deaths 'hit record high', new figures show

Drug-related deaths in Norfolk have reached a record high over the last three years, new figures have revealed.

The rising toll has prompted charities to demand major reforms to how the problem is tackled by the authorities.

Data from the Office for National Statistics shows 235 cases were recorded across the county between 2016 and 2018, the highest total since records began in 2001.

Deaths caused by drug use have reached record levels in Norfolk, according to new figures (15489044)
Deaths caused by drug use have reached record levels in Norfolk, according to new figures (15489044)

There was also a slight rise in the number of deaths within West Norfolk, with 38 recorded between 2016 and 2018, compared to 36 in the preceding three years.

Most of the deaths recorded were as a result of misuse, meaning they involved illegal drugs, or were as a result of drug abuse or dependence.

The rising trend locally also reflects a broader national figure which showed 4,359 deaths from drug misuse in England and Wales in 2018, the highest total since the figures were first recorded in 1993.

Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the Royal Society for Public Health, said the figures are “predictable and avoidable as they are tragic”, and has called for drug use to be treated as a public health issue.

“The case for a more compassionate harm reduction approach has now been clear for years,” she added.

“And yet the Government has continued to lead with tough rhetoric around law enforcement, all the while presiding over sustained cuts to local authority budgets, undermining their ability to deliver effective drug treatment services.”

Dr James Nicholls, chief executive of the Transform Drug Policy Foundation, said current drug policy has blocked measures known to save lives.

He added: “These deaths are an avoidable tragedy - and each one represents a brother, sister, parent or friend who has left loved ones behind.

“After six years of record deaths, the Government must act, with a clear focus on keeping people alive.”

He called for supervised drug consumption rooms, heroin prescribing clinics and an end to the criminalisation of drug use.

A government spokesperson said drug misuse was at similar levels to a decade ago, but added: “We are absolutely committed to reducing it and the harms it causes.”

They said the Government has commissioned an independent review to look at issues including the system of support and enforcement around drug misuse.

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