DOZENS of deaths attributed to drug abuse have been recorded in Barnsley since the start of the pandemic, shock new figures have revealed.
Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show 29 deaths related to drug poisoning were registered in Barnsley in 2021, as well as 38 the previous year.
They were among 4,859 drug poisoning deaths registered across England and Wales last year - the ninth consecutive rise and the highest number since records began more than a quarter of a century ago in 1993.
Local drug rehabilitation leaders believe the knock-on impact of the Covid-19 pandemic - which resulted in addicts being given ‘nowhere to turn to’ when treatment facilities closed their doors - is now being seen through the results.
UK Addiction Treatment Group (UKAT), the charity behind Linwood House, a 34-bed rehabilitation facility on Wensley Road, New Lodge, have seen record-breaking admissions so far in 2022.
A spokesperson said: “Unfortunately more people in treatment for their addiction died in Barnsley than they should have.
“This is likely down to unprecedented changes to support during the coronavirus crisis.
“We know first-hand that treatment facilities closed their doors to addicts during the pandemic when in fact, critical care intervention should have remained open and accessible.
“Addicts were forced into enduring home detoxification, an incredibly dangerous process that should only happen in a professionally supported, safe environment.
“Some addicts who have supervised - for a reason - opioid substitute consumption were given take-home doses instead.
“Addicts weren’t getting access to blood tests so treatment for liver disease and other blood borne viruses were left untreated.
“We believe, quite simply, it cannot be a coincidence that as support and treatment services closed during this time, more addicts lost their lives.
“Those suffering with addiction in Barnsley have faced years of budget cuts to treatment services and countless public rehabs closing their doors to them in their time of need.”
Figures show that Barnsley’s mortality rate - which takes into account age and population size - was 13.8 deaths per 100,000 people in the two-year period, well above the national average of 7.9 per 100,000 people.
The town’s among the first wave of local authorities to receive Department of Health and Social Care funding due to having one of the highest levels of need - based on the local drug death rate, deprivation, opiate and crack cocaine prevalence and crime rates.
Niamh Eastwood, executive director of national centre for drugs expertise Release, said every drug-related death is avoidable but the deaths will continue to rise without commitment to ‘serious policy reforms’ such as the decriminalisation of possession.
She added: “It is an utter disgrace that we are again talking about record-breaking drug deaths.
“Drug deaths are a public health emergency across the UK that can and must be adequately addressed.
“Government inaction is a political choice.”