The number of people who died while accessing addiction treatment in Gateshead has fallen, new figures show – despite a national increase in deaths among service users.
The Transform Drug Policy Foundation said that in order to save lives, more must be done to encourage drug users to enter and remain in treatment.
Department of Health and Social Care figures show there were 58 deaths among adults undergoing drug addiction treatment in Gateshead between April 2019 and March 2022.
This was down from 73 who died during the three years prior, from April 2016 to March 2019.
It was also down from the 77 deaths recorded between 2018 and 2021.
Across England, 7,429 people died while in contact with treatment services in the three years to March 2022 – a 26% increase on the 5,889 deaths recorded in the previous three-year period.
Martin Powell, head of partnerships at the Transform Drug Policy Foundation, said the rise in deaths is likely due in part to Covid-19 preventing face to face treatment.
Mr Powell added: "But against a backdrop of record drug deaths, we should be very concerned that over a third of people are dropping out of treatment, and just 60% of people using heroin are in treatment at all.
"To save lives we must offer services that retain people in treatment, and appeal to those we aren't reaching – including heroin prescribing clinics, overdose prevention centres and crack pipe distribution."
He said the UK should follow Portugal's drug policies by decriminalising drug use to reduce the stigma that deters many from seeking help.
The most recent estimates of opiate and crack cocaine use in local areas show there were thought to be 1,850 people using the drugs in Gateshead in 2016-17.
That was the equivalent of 14.2 users per 10,000 people in the area – well above the national rate of 8.9 per 10,000.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Drug and alcohol addiction can have a tragic impact on people’s health, families and lives.
“We are committed to tackling the root causes of substance misuse with our 10-year Drugs Strategy."
They add the department has invested £95 million of new funding to rebuild drug and alcohol misuse treatment centres and services in England this year, and is also funding specialist alcohol care teams in hospitals with the highest need.