DRUG-RELATED deaths in Barnsley are at their highest level in almost 20 years, according to figures released by the Office for National Statistics.

There were 67 deaths registered due to drug poisoning in the borough between 2016 and 2018 - a rate of 9.6 people per 100,000 - the highest in South Yorkshire and higher than the Yorkshire-wide average of 8.2 per 100,000.

This is the highest rate since 2001 to 2003, when 49 people - or 7.6 per 100,000 - died of drug poisoning, and a drastic increase from the 36 deaths in 2009 to 2011, when the rate was at its lowest point at 5.4 per 100,000.

Of these, drug misuse-related deaths were also at their lowest from 2009 to 2011, with 19 deaths registered, at a rate of 2.8 per 100,000 - but these have again increased by almost double, and now stand at a rate of 5.1 per 100,000 after 36 deaths were registered to have occurred by drug misuse from 2016 to 2018.

Drug misuse is classified as a sub-set of drug poisoning - while drug misuse-related deaths occur when the underlying cause of death is drug abuse or dependence, drug poisoning figures include accidents and suicides involving drugs and complications from drug abuse such as deep vein thrombosis or septicaemia.

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Almost all drug-related deaths are certified by a coroner, and so there may be deaths that occurred in 2018 that are not included in the concerning figures, due to the length of time it can take for an inquest to conclude.

The figures come after a series of Freedom of Information requests made by UK Addiction Treatment Group (UKAT) revealed that in the last six years, Barnsley Council’s spending on public drug and alcohol treatment has decreased from £5.2m in 2013 to £2.8m this year - a 46 per cent reduction.

And the group believes this fall in funding is to blame for the rise in drug-related deaths.

Eytan Alexander, managing director of UKAT, said: “The ONS figures are saddening but unsurprising.

“We’ve highlighted the drastic reduction in budget cuts to substance misuse services every year since 2013 and unfortunately, these figures now show the impact this is having on the most vulnerable people living across Yorkshire.”

Coun Jim Andrews, cabinet spokesman for public health, said: “Every drug-related death is a tragedy and we take every death that occurs seriously,” said.

“The drug poisoning death statistic includes accidental, deliberate self-poisoning and drug misuse causes, so the picture is complex and the actions we take locally reflect this.

“There are a range of economic, social and environmental factors that affect these figures. This reflects the differences displayed in 2009 - however, since 2011, we have had lower rates relating to drug misuse when compared to the Yorkshire and the Humber average.

“Some of the actions we take to combat this include commissioning Barnsley Recovery Steps, an evidence-based drug misuse treatment service, which provides easily accessible support and treatment to residents who need help.

“We will continue to work with all partners, including local people and their families to ensure the right support is delivered to those in need.”

Fentanyl to blame for seven deaths alone...

COUNCILLOR Jenny Platts, cabinet spokesperson for communities, previously said the changes to council spending on drug and alcohol services were due to ‘streamlining’ which began two years ago and the service still met contractual requirements.

With national records stretching back as far as 1993, ONS has confirmed that the number of drug poisoning-related deaths registered last year 4,359 across the country is the highest-ever been.

Ben Humberstone, deputy director for health analysis and life events, said: “Previously, this had been linked to a rise in deaths related to opiates like heroin and morphine, but last year there were also increases in deaths across a wider variety of substances including cocaine and what had been known as ‘legal highs’.

“We produce these figures to help inform decision makers working towards protecting those at risk of dying from drug poisoning.”

Fentanyl a substance claimed to be 100 times more lethal than heroin was said to be responsible for the deaths of seven people in the town in 2017, leading Operation Armenia to be launched to combat drug dealing across Barnsley.