Brighton and Hove has once again been named and shamed as the drug death capital of the UK.
Figures released yesterday ranked the city worst in the country for drug-related fatalities per head of population.
But there was good news in the fight against addiction as deaths fell overall for the third year in a row.
City leaders said the numbers showed treatments were working – but admitted there was still a long way to go.
The report from the International Centre for Drug Policy showed there were 35 deaths in Brighton and Hove in 2010 compared to 48 the year before.
In 2011, deaths in Brighton and Hove fell even further to around 27 with a similar number expected this year.
Grim tally However, amid a national fall in drugs deaths, Brighton and Hove’s grim tally of 14.8 fatalities per 100,000 people two years ago means the city is again ranked the worst in the country.
Andy Winter, chief executive of the Brighton Housing Trust, runs the largest drug and alcohol treatment services in the city.
He blamed Brighton and Hove’s drug problem on an “anything goes night time culture” but said the drop in deaths was “immensely pleasing”.
He said: “We have to ask ourselves as a city whether we want to continue with this awful tag.
“Although people are enjoying the night time economy, there are victims too and that needs to change. However, we are seeing a better integration of services in Brighton and Hove then we have ever seen before and the drop in deaths reflects that. But even one death is one too many.”
Last year the NHS and Brighton and Hove City Council announced a “cultural shift” in drug services to try to tackle substance abuse.
Previously, many addicts had become lost in the range of different services but under the new system users are assigned a named worker in the first week of treatment.
Frontline workers are also being trained to offer a ‘dual diagnosis’ where users have substance misuse as well as mental health needs.
Since the revamp there has been a 17% growth in the numbers of people leaving treatment successfully compared to the national average rise of 7%.
Mike Pattinson, director of operations for CRI, a drug rehabilitation charity, said the latest figures were “fantastic news”.
He said: “Any drug death is tragic but the positive changes we have made have meant that less people have fallen through the gaps.
“It’s much more difficult now to lose track of people.”
Ex-addict Pete Davies organised the Recovery Walk in September where drug users marched together to celebrate their recovery.
He said the “agenda had changed” in Brighton and Hove and said he hoped the city would soon lose its tag as the drug death capital of the UK.
He said: “It’s not about punishing people any more. It’s about helping them recover and that’s got to be a good thing.
“What’s important is what happens to people in the grip of addiction and after they get clean. People need to rebuild their lives and learn life skills – that’s what stops them returning to drugs.”
Of the 35 deaths in 2010, 13 were the result of heroin overdoses compared to 22 in 2009.
Despite fatalities from the heroin substitute methadone rising over the same period from five to seven, the city fares well in comparison to other cities including Birmingham and Bradford.
Andy Winter said the low proportion of methadone deaths were “a testament” to a drug strategy that was working.
He said: “There are actually remarkably few methadone deaths in Brighton and Hove. Most of the people that die from methadone are not in treatment and get the drug from illegal sources.
“I would say the low proportion in Brighton and Hove is a tribute to the local organisations who have stopped methadone getting into the wrong hands.”
Councillor Rob Jarrett, chair of Brighton & Hove City Council’s adult social care and health committee, said: “Brighton & Hove has had a problem with drug abuse for decades so it’s great that we are also pioneering services that are delivering real results to help combat the problem.
“People turn to drugs for a whole range of reasons. The damage drug abuse does not just on the individual but the family as well as wider society is devastating so it’s vital that we take action.”
Legal highs - grieving mum warns over flood of new drugs
The rise of legal highs has made the fight against drugs in Brighton and Hove even tougher.
Last year 48 new party drugs were discovered across the UK which, although legal, could cause mental health problems or even death.
In 2010 there were two deaths related to Brighton and Hove related to mephedrone, nicknamed ‘meow-meow’, which has now been banned.
But one grieving mother warned that the flood of new drugs was outpacing legislators and putting young people in danger.
In 2009, promising medical student Hester Stewart, from Brighton, died after taking a legal high called GBL.
Her mother Maryon said other young people needed to say no to new drugs – even if they had not yet been outlawed.
She said: “As fast as we ban these drugs the crazy chemists just tweak them and a new one comes out.
“Teenagers are playing Russian roulette with their lives and their clueless parents have no idea.
“My Hester was a beautiful cheerleader not a drug taker.
There was no way she would have even sniffed it let alone swallowed it if she knew what it was.
“I’m also certain that the person who supplied her didn’t know the risk either. He didn’t mean to kill her.
“Kids in Brighton think they are safe because they are legal but they’re not.”
Michael Lawrence, from drugs charity CRI, said legal highs were “certainly here to stay”
and confirmed there had already been an unknown number of deaths in Brighton and Hove this year.
He said: “It’s impossible for the authorities to stay up to speed.
“People who use these substances don’t want to go to services because they think they will be full of heroin addicts but that needs to change.
“Ultimately it’s about education because even when these drugs are banned people don’t necessarily stop using them.”