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Brighton and Hove finally winning war on drug deaths
New figures show Brighton and Hove may finally be winning the war against drug deaths. The city is no longer the worst in the country for people dying from fatal overdoses. Siobhan Ryan and Bill Gardner talk to workers on the frontline about how more addicts are being pulled back from the brink.
Brighton and Hove has finally lost its unwanted crown of drugs death capital of the UK.
The number of people dying as a result of drugs in the city fell sharply from 34 in 2010 to 20 in 2011.
For many years Brighton and Hove has regularly topped the list of areas with the highest death rate, coming in above major cities like London, Liverpool and Birmingham.
However, a report published today by the International Centre for Drug Policy shows the rate has fallen from 16 per 100,000 of the population aged 16 and over in 2010 to nine in 2011.
Manchester is now ranked as the drugs death capital, with a rate of 15, with Brighton and Hove coming in at a relatively lowly eighth on the list.
Council, police and health officials across the city said the sharp drop in deaths showed new approaches to treatment were working – but all agreed there was still a long way to go.
Most of the people who died in the city were men in their 30s and 40s and the most common drugs taken were hypnotics and sedatives and methadone.
There were seven deaths related to heroin but this was a drop on the 13 recorded the year before.
One reason for the fall in deaths since 2009 has been the rollout of Naloxone – an emergency antidote to heroin.
In a bid to cut the death rate, homeless people living in hostels in the city are being prescribed the drug, which works best if it is injected within a minute of overdosing.
Health workers said free naloxone injections had pulled many users back from the brink of death since the cure began to be distributed.
Hundreds of homeless people living in hostels in the city are now being prescribed the drug in a bid to cut the death rate.
City leaders hailed the impact of naloxone and said the drop in deaths was also due to a “cultural shift” in the way addicts are treated.
Last year the jabs were used to save the lives of 18 people living in hostels after they overdosed on heroin.
Between October 2011 and September 2012 nearly 350 take-home naloxone jabs were prescribed to addicts across the city.
Mike Pattinson is head of the drug treatment charity CRI, which distributes the naloxone jabs.
He said: “Of course naloxone is a miracle drug - but it's also just a very good idea.
“The reason we in Brighton and Hove have been able to get it out there so widely compared to other cities is because we have networks of people across services that are all pulling in the same direction.
“We wanted to save lives and that's what's happening.”
Mr Pattinson called for restrictions to be reduced so all drug workers could carry the emergency jab at all times.
He said: “To me, this is a no-brainer. This is a drug that saves lives so let's make sure people who work with addicts can stop them dying from overdoses.”
Each year 120 outgoing inmates from Lewes Prison are recruited and trained in how to administer the drug in the event of an overdose.
Dan is a heroin addict from Brighton who lost many friends and his own father to heroin overdoses.
He said: “Of course it's a great drug because it saves lives. I had friends that have died that were really lovely, and naloxone would have saved them.
“But the problem is that many of these people would probably have overdosed again. What's important is that people are saved from death but then helped to overcome addiction.”
Andy Winter, from Brighton Housing Trust, said: “Naloxone has obviously been a massive help in reducing drug deaths.
“But there were still 20 drug deaths in 2011 and that's still far too many. Now we need to become the recovery capital of the UK and we are a long way from that.”
The city’s drug problem has been blamed on a number of issues, including its reputation as a party town.
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. The package also includes support for education and employment.
The new approach to drug treatment has been so successful that it is now being applied to local alcohol treatment services.
Drugs deaths have also fallen in other parts of the county.
Twelve people died in West Sussex compared to 16 the year before and in East Sussex the numbers fell from 25 to 16.
Sussex Police’s partnership work to tackle drug use in Brighton and Hove is called Op Reduction and was started in 2005. The force also works closely with the Crime Reduction Initiative (CRI) charity.
Brighton and Hove Chief Superintendent Graham Bartlett is an advisor to the Independent Drugs Commission – a panel set up to tackle drug issues in the city.
Chief Supt Bartlett said: “It is great to know that our continued work with partner agencies, which is aimed at disrupting drug dealing and tackling drug abuse in the city, is making a real difference in the local communities by reducing the amount of drug deaths.
“Drug addiction can have an impact on all communities in the city, not just the health implications for addicts themselves but for anyone else who may become a victim of crime as a result of some addicts resorting to criminal behaviour to feed their habit.
“Of course 20 deaths as a result of drugs is still 20 too many and we will continue to work on reducing this number.”
Tom Scanlon, Brighton and Hove director of public health, said “hard work” by medical staff on the frontline had helped deliver the fall in drug deaths.
He said: “This is a real triumph and everyone involved should take pride in what we have achieved.
“But there is more hard graft to be done to continue this downward trend. We have a relatively high number of drug users in the city, which is why we also have high numbers of drug-related deaths.”
Councillor Rob Jarrett, cabinet member for health, welcomed the drop in deaths and said it was primarily due to the “cultural shift” in treatment services.
He said: “It is great news that we have lost the title of drugs death capital of the UK and I want to thank all the professionals involved that have helped achieve this.
“But we have to be mindful that any death caused by drugs is a tragedy. Brighton and Hove has had a problem with drug abuse for decades but through pioneering services tailored to users we are delivering real results to help combat the problem.”
Over the past few years, many drug users in Brighton and Hove have rebuilt their shattered lives.
Sue, in her mid-40s, was a long-term prolific user but has now been free of drugs since 2010.
She is now involved in local projects to help people who abuse drugs and is studying at university.
She said: “I used to be a self-harmer and that’s why my addiction revolved around injecting drugs and this made it difficult to just stop. I got bored very easily. I had to be occupied 24/7 so the service user involvement work allowed me to do that.”
Sue said it had been “extremely difficult” to free herself from the grip of heroin.
She said: “I am in my mid-40s and have been trying since I was 20 but this is the first time I have managed it. It’s strange to know that I am getting to grips with it but also great. I have my life back, am getting to grips with reality and am paying off my thousands of pounds of debt.”
Percival, aged 43, used heroin and crack for 18 years before cleaning up five years ago.
He said: “I used heroin from 1990 to 2008 as well as crack cocaine on and off for 15 years.
“It feels really good to be abstinent now but also strange dealing with everyday life. When I wake up nowadays and have breakfast the first thing I think of is not ‘Where can I get a can of beer from’ or ‘how can I get a tenner to buy drugs?’.
“The amount of people that have shown belief in me – including where I was unable to show belief in myself – has been incredibly heart-warming.”
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