A shocking rise in drug-related deaths in Wyre Forest means the district has become the worst in the West Midlands for heroin and morphine abuse tragedies.
Eighteen people, including eight women, died from misuse of all drugs in Kidderminster, Stourport and Bewdley in the two years up to the end of 2016 – more than three times the total for the previous two years.
Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) released this week also reveals the district witnessed an upsurge in death rates from heroin and morphine misuse, making it the most deadly place in the West Midlands.
The area now has a heroin and morphine death rate that is nearly twice that of Birmingham, and the highest in Worcestershire. At 3.7 deaths from heroin and morphine per 100,000 people per year, the district is also double the national average of 1.7.
This second graph illustrates how the heroin death rate in Wyre Forest compares with neighbouring authorities in the West Midlands. Councils in Worcestershire are highlighted in red.
Public Health England has suggested a link between areas of higher deprivation and drugs misuse.
Their report, Preventing Drugs Misuse Deaths, said: “Social factors, including housing, employment and deprivation, are associated with substance misuse and these social factors moderate drug treatment outcomes.”
Their report also highlights that heroin-related deaths in England and Wales have more than doubled since 2012, to the highest number since records began 20 years ago.
The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs linked an increase in heroin misuse deaths to the “deepening socio-economic deprivation since the financial crisis of 2008” in its publication Reducing Opioid-Related Deaths in the UK.
In 2016, the number of drug-related deaths where heroin and/or morphine were mentioned on the death certificate has increased by almost eight times since 1993. There has been only a slight increase from 2015, where 1,201 deaths were registered, but there has been an increase of almost two-thirds since 2012, following the “heroin drought” of 2010 to 2011.
The county’s drugs strategy is developed by Worcestershire County Council, in partnership with a range of agencies. The contract for delivery of drug and alcohol recovery services currently rests with Swanswell.
A Worcestershire County Council spokesperson said: “Any death relating to drug use in Worcestershire is regretful.
“Unfortunately, the number of drug related deaths is increasing nationally, partly due to a rise in the availability and purity of heroin and an ageing population of heroin users.
“In Worcestershire our main intentions are to reduce demand, restrict supply and build opportunities for recovery, which is in line with the national strategy for drugs.
“We continue to work closely with GPs, pharmacists and other primary care services on this issue. We are committed to providing a clear county-wide support network. This helps to ensure people who are misusing or affected by those who are misusing substances have access to relevant and localised advice and information.”
Stephen Brown, spokesman for Wyre Forest Labour, reacted to the news with frustration, while highlighting government and local authority funding cuts to drugs services.
“Labour Councillors raised questions over 12 months ago about the critical underfunding of drug abuse support services and these depressing figures come as no surprise to us.
“We should all be very concerned that Wyre Forest has this unenviable record and it indicates not only a deep seated drugs problem, but the deep deprivation that exists in parts of our districf that simply can’t be ignored as a contributory factor.
“Austerity, poor pay, poor educational achievement, poor life chances, has hit the district hard in more ways than people can imagine and it all comes down to shrinking resources available.
“Support services for addicts have been slashed under this Government, and in turn by the Tory County Council. The contract with Swanswell is subject to 15% cuts across the current three year cycle and Worcestershire receives less funding than the national average, yet has profound issues. A good number of drug team and community worker staff, when the service was in-house, were made redundant. Really, what does the council expect? NHS Mental Health services have also been cut, it’s a perfect storm.
“In turn, extra pressure gets placed upon the Police to deal with these things, and as we know, West Mercia Police has seen significant cuts to Officer numbers.”
He added: “Labour would put extra resourcing into policing, early intervention, community services, mental health services, and drug support services, especially alcohol services, to make a start on putting things right.
“Our 2017 General Election Manifesto went some way to address these issues but we need a proper debate and review in society about it. What kind of country do we want? What’s our vision for our communities? If we want to live in a decent and fair society, these things can’t be ignored any more than they can simply be ‘policed’ away. It needs a comprehensive approach involving partnerships between services, and proper funding.”