The number of people who died while accessing addiction treatment in South Tyneside has risen, new figures show.
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 28 deaths among adults undergoing drug addiction treatment in South Tyneside between April 2019 and March 2022.
This was up from 20 who died during the three years prior, from April 2016 to March 2019.
However, it was down from 31 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 737 people using the drugs in South Tyneside in 2016-17.
That was the equivalent of 7.8 users per 10,000 people in the area – below 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.