It's time to face up to Blackpool's drug problems as figures reveal highest death rate in England

A fightback against drug-related deaths in Blackpool is taking place after the resort was found to have the highest rate of deaths in the country in new statistics.

Tuesday, 27th October 2020, 9:53 am

According to the Office of National Statistics, which has compiled figures for drug-related deaths by local authority in England and Wales last year, Blackpool had 42 drug-related deaths in 2019, believed to be the largest amount on record.

The figures also show 106 drug-related deaths in Blackpool between 2017 and 2019, at a rate of 27.5 per 100,000 people – higher than any other area in England.

This was well above the average death rate across England of 7.1 for 2017-19 and a rise on the 24.0 rate for the area from 2016-18.

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Blackpool has the highest rate of drug-related deaths in England - Image: PA

In the North West the rate was 9.8 and the next highest local authority was Middlesbrough with a rate of 21.3.

The deaths relate to poisoning from a variety of illegal and legal drugs, including prescription and over-the-counter medicines.

The figures count deaths from drug abuse but also include those from accidents, suicides, and health complications arising from drug use.

Of the 42 deaths in Blackpool last year, 29 were down to misuse, meaning they involved illegal drugs, or were as a result of drug abuse or dependence.

Dr Arif Rajpura

Despite the damning figures a report has said Blackpool is leading the way to combat drug-related deaths by adopting an ‘innovative approach’ despite the resort having some of the highest cuts in the country due to local health budgets.

A team of resort organisations and services are working together to tackle the problems, which highlight the drug issues across the resort.

The fightback has been spearheaded by the local public health team and Lancashire Police where a panel has been created with representatives from a range of organisations committed to cracking down on drug-related harm in Blackpool.

The panel includes members from North West Ambulance Service and also from coroner, probation, social and drug treatment services – all of which are working together to pool knowledge and resources in an effort to combat a problem that affects almost every facet of local society.

This approach has been crucial throughout the Covid-19 crisis as drug services had to rapidly think up inventive ways to help those in need – while not putting staff or service users at risk.

Faced with the highest rate of drug-related deaths in England and Wales, the report from drug treatment provider Delphi Medical and Camurus shows how Blackpool Council and the resort’s police and drug treatment services are adopting the innovative model to ‘drive change’.

The report highlights how Blackpool has significant and ongoing issues with drug-related harm and it has had the highest rate of deaths related to drug misuse from any local authority in England and Wales since 2009.

The resort’s rate of 14 heroin or morphine deaths per 100,000 people in 2016 is almost double that of the next highest area (Burnley) and is significantly higher than the England average of 1.9.

A spokesman for Delphi Medical said: “The human toll of drugs use in Blackpool is felt far and wide across health, welfare and policing services. While the most direct and devastating impact in the loss of life, drug use also manifests across individuals and society in many ways.

“Blackpool has a higher rate of deaths related to drug misuse than any other local authority in England and Wales since 2009 and in 2018 alone, there were 38 drug-related deaths in Blackpool.

“The wider societal problems of drug-use in Blackpool are far-reaching. For example, people who use drugs are less likely to engage with local GP services, leading to a strain on acute medical services, while a high proportion will require extensive mental health support.”

The report states three key features of Blackpool’s approach to delivering joined-up services for people at risk of drug-related harm.

They are implementing the Drug-Related Death and Non-Fatal Overdose Review Panel (DRDNFO), offering a full range of evidence-based treatments for dependence and harnessing partnerships to respond resiliently to Covid-19

The report has been backed by Dr Arif Rajpura, (inset) Blackpool Council’s director of public health.

He said: “For those of us working together locally, this report provides a timely opportunity to reflect on Blackpool’s experience of the past two years. I hope that it will support other areas that are looking to change their approach or drive more collaboration.

“Of course, there is always more that can be done, and we are continually ambitious for our services and the people they support. I know we share this drive with so many public health teams across the country and I look forward to building on our shared learning together.”

Delphi are a lead provider of Blackpool’s Horizon alcohol, drugs and sexual health support service.

The Horizon service is funded by Blackpool Council to provide a wide range of support for all Blackpool residents.

The Horizon service offers information, health screening, treatment and counselling – all confidential and free. Using a dependence to freedom model, the service supports the reduction of dependence on alcohol and drugs and supports clients at all stages of their journey to recovery.

Emma Knape, company lead at Delphi Medical, said that as the lead provider of the drug and alcohol addiction service in Blackpool, they are wholly committed to playing a role in “driving forward change” in the town.

She said: “We want better outcomes for the people who use our services, and examples such as the DRD Panel demonstrate the wider appetite to work collaboratively and more creatively to reach these improved outcomes.

“However, the facts are that people continue to face increasingly difficult issues and experiences related to drug misuse, be it their own misuse or that of a member of their family or community.

“We believe that all areas, especially those dealing with high levels of drug related deaths, require urgent increased focus and resources to drive effective and sustainable change in response to this local and nationwide emergency.”

DCI John Clegg of Lancashire Police said he has been immensely proud of how the operation has gone so far and predicts good results.

He said: “Drug-related death and drug related non-fatal overdose episodes are preventable health harms that have a widespread effect on our community.

“Through the partnership working developed with key stakeholders across Blackpool, we have established a panel of professionals who have brought a collaborative difference to improving a desperate situation for the lives of those directly and indirectly affected.

“By channelling our collective understanding of the issues in Blackpool and recognising that traditional approaches don’t necessarily prioritise and support the most vulnerable across the drug community, we have been able to bring about real change.

“I’m immensely proud of the work the panel has achieved so far and look forward to seeing its continued success.”

Emily Davis, who is in charge of harm reduction for Blackpool Council’s public health team, has applauded everyone working within the partnertship to tackle the ‘unnecessary’ deaths caused by drugs.

She said: “With support from all members of the panel, we are collectively attempting to prevent untimely and quite frankly, unnecessary deaths of people living in Blackpool.

“We have really good people working in this town and we need to continue this good partnership work for the benefit of those at risk.”

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