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Government must do more to tackle drug deaths, says PCC

The West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner Simon Foster has called for more to be done to tackle drug deaths as ONS data reveals they have risen for the eighth year in a row.

PCC Simon Foster called the statistics “deeply saddening”.

They show that there were 215 drug related deaths in the West Midlands in the year ending March 2020, rising from 185 in 2019. In England and Wales there were 4,561 drug related deaths in that period, the highest number since records began in 1993, and up 3 per cent  from the previous year.

“Clearly this new data shows that more needs to be done, locally and nationally to help people break the cycle of addiction and get their lives back," said PCC Foster.

He repeated his predecessors mantra that drugs cost the West Midlands £1.4 billion each year and half of all burglary, robbery, shoplifting and thefts are committed by someone looking to fund their drug addiction.

“The current approach we have in this country to drugs isn’t working,” he said.

“The government have a major role to play in changing the way drug policy is seen in the UK. It should act with haste to implement the recommendations of Dame Carol Black’s review into drug prevention, treatment and recovery and especially the reference to the need for a long term funding approach from government.

“I am committed to continuing to work in the West Midlands to help people suffering with substance misuse problems get the support and help they need. I am proud of the schemes we are leading on to support people. I’ve just expanded the Offender to Rehab programme which is helping people turn their lives around as well as leading to huge reductions in the cost of shoplifting to businesses and taking money away from drug gangs."

He referenced ongoing work in the West Midlands such as Cranstoun Arrest Referral Service and DIVERT, both of which support lower level drug offenders to get out of the cycle of crime, but said “more needs to be done”.

West Midlands is also the force leading on Naloxone, a drug administered via nasal spray which reverses the deadly effects of an opioid overdose. Carrying the spray is voluntary and less than 100 front line officers currently have it on their equipment belts. 

Of the deaths registered in the year ending March 2020 around half (2,263) involved an opiate.

Separate figures released last week showed that 1,339 people died from drugs in Scotland last year.

The country continues to have the worst drug death rate in Europe.

Police Scotland is currently rolling out Naloxone too, although officer take-up – which is voluntary- is being discouraged by the Scottish Police Federation.

Around 150 officers carry the drug routinely. 

The government today (3 August) announced an eight-week consultation on making Naloxone more widely available to frontline staff, including the police. 

New proposals could see officers able to give Naloxone to those at future risk of harm as opposed to just administering it to those in need at the time, something previously only permitted by drug treatment services.

In Durham, officers have been providing kits to detainees to take home with them when released from custody. 

A spokesperson from the Department of Health and Social Care said custody officers were deemed drug workers for this purpose and the new proposals would make this situation "very much the norm moving forward and allow this to happen more freely".

Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “Allowing police officers and other frontline workers to carry naloxone would mean more lives are saved from this terrible scourge and I am delighted to support the Health and Social Care Secretary in this work as part of a whole-of-Government effort to drive down drug misuse.

“At the same time we will continue to clamp down on criminal gangs by actively disrupting supply chains which fuel illegal markets, support people through treatment and recovery, and rid communities of the harm drug misuse causes.”

The Police Federation for England and Wales said their position remains unchanged on Naxolone which is that administering such a drug should not be the responsibility of a police officer.

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