North West Wales Is Drug Death Capital

North West Wales has been named as the country’s drug death capital. A shocking report found Gwynedd and Anglesey had the highest rate of deaths per population in Wales last year, with eight out of 100,000 killed by drugs.

It puts the region’s drug deaths on a par with Liverpool. Swansea had seven deaths per 100,000, and Ceredigion three. Powys had three in 2005 and one last year.

The figures emerged in a report by the International Centre for Drug Policy at the University of London.

North West Wales coroner Dewi Pritchard Jones said: “What’s shocking is the number of drug deaths coming in. At one time they were few and far between.”

Mr Pritchard Jones, a member of the North Wales Drug Forum, said: “There have been drug-related deaths in Llandudno and Menai Bridge for years but what’s happening now is that there are more in places such as Denbigh, Holyhead, Bangor, Penygroes and Pwllheli. It has now spread to rural areas.”

Mr Pritchard Jones said steps had been taken to ensure addicts took prescribed methadone in view of chemists in pharmacies, but in rural areas this was difficult to control.

He said: “We are running a campaign that users must consume it within the pharmacy. That’s running well in towns like Colwyn Bay, Bangor and Holyhead but not in the countryside because it isn’t easy for people to get to a pharmacy twice a day.”

Maldwyn Roberts, North Wales co-ordinator for community safety and substance misuse, and chairman of the Drug Related Death Review Group, said: “Usually heroin on its own does not kill but heroin is connected with most deaths.

“Used with other drugs or alcohol it leaves users having trouble breathing or vomiting or drowning on the contents of their stomach.”

Mr Roberts said many of the drug deaths were users who had decided not to get help from agencies and had taken drugs while on their own.

The Cais drugs advisory service chief, Aneurin Owen, said: “The need for effective treatment is paramount if we are to reduce drug related deaths. Treatment has to be comprehensive, including more in-patient de-tox and better follow-up links in the community.”

Carol Moore, chief officer of North Wales Probation Service said:“We have six substance misuse action teams at local authority level bringing together the police, probation, health and organisations involved in front-line substance misuse.

“In addition we have the drug intervention programme funded by the Welsh Assembly Government and which delivers a range of services to people who have committed offences connected with drug misuse and at-risk groups.

“Within the Probation Service we are able to offer a drug rehabilitation requirement as part of a community sentence for anybody who is going through the courts where drugs or substance misuse is a problem linked to their offending.”

Caernarfon Plaid Cymru MP Hywel Williams said: “It is a particular problem in rural areas because people are isolated.”

Figures for North East Wales and central North Wales were not supplied.

HEROIN use in rural parts of North Wales is on the increase and comparable to some of England’s larger cities.

A recent study carried out by a group of experts from North Wales and London concluded that “the prevalence of heroin use in North west Wales may be rising.”

Out of a population of around 250,000, researchers found an approximate total of 820 heroin users aged between 15-44 living in North west Wales, almost 1.2% of the population.

However they estimated that the total number of users in the area to be much higher at around 1,300.

One expert said the heroin problem in rural North west Wales was the same as Brighton.

The study said: “The prevalence of heroin use in North West Wales is comparable to that reported from urban areas of the UK.”

The study pointed to “pockets of high social deprivation and an established heroin-using population.”

The experts analysed police custody figures, opiate-related overdose figures and hospital admissions. They also took data from hepatitis C tests.

Out of 322 observed heroin users 72% were male, and 60% aged under 30.