Brighton and Hove has regained its unwanted crown of drugs death capital of the UK.

Forty four people died in the city as a result of drugs in 2008, ranking it above London, Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham.

A report published by the International Centre for Drug Policy gives Brighton a death rate of 20.7 per 100,000 people over 16 years old.

The number of deaths and the rate is exactly the same as 2007 despite millions of pounds being spent on the problem.

Workers responsible for cutting the death rate admitted today the number was “unacceptably high”.

It is the sixth time in eight years the city has topped the list after falling to second place in 2006 and 2007.

The number of deaths had been steadily falling since a peak of 67 in 2000 to 38 in 2006.

The actual number and rate could climb higher as the report’s authors have published their results earlier than usual and not all inquest results have come in.

The original report for 2007 published last November gave Brighton and Hove a rate of 18.84 and recorded 40 deaths.

The majority of deaths, compiled from coroners’ reports, were from heroin but there were also five from cocaine and two from ecstasy.

Most were also men over the age of 35 who lived in the city.

Brighton and Hove has around 2,300 injecting heroin addicts, who are particularly at risk.

The high number has been partially blamed on a gang of drug dealers who traded super-strength black heroin in the city’s parks and on street corners in the first few months of last year.

The drugs, which turned black when prepared for injection, led to a string of deaths from accidental overdoses.

The rate dropped sharply after the dealers were caught and eventually jailed after a court case last October.

Police, NHS and council workers defended their work on dealing with drug problems, saying the dangerously strong heroin circulating in the city at the start of 2008 had skewed the results.

Sussex Police Chief Superintendent Graham Bartlett, commander for Brighton and Hove said: “At the start of 2008, police issued a warning about heroin purity due to an increase in drugs-related deaths.

This may well be a contributory factor to the level of deaths not decreasing in 2008.

“The robust multi-agency work carried out in the city by the police, the council, local NHS and other partners in the Drug and Alcohol Action Team to tackle the misuse and supply of drugs, and other crime associated with drug abuse, remains a key priority for all partners who share a vested interest in keeping Brighton and Hove a safe place to live, work and visit.”

Work being done includes Operation Reduction, run by Sussex police, the Crime Reduction Initiative (CRI) charity and the city’s Drug and Alcohol action team.

It focuses on getting users in the treatment and dealers off the streets.

CRI deputy director Becky de Sancha said: “We are working hard to reduce the unacceptably high level of drug deaths in the City.

“We formally review all drug-related deaths and ‘near misses’, including all those who die while not engaged with our services.”