'Drugs are Swansea's ugly secret': Drug-related deaths more than double most of Wales

Swansea's drug-related death rate is more than double most of the rest of Wales, ITV News Wales Reporter Rhys Williams reports

The Welsh poet Dylan Thomas called Swansea an “ugly, lovely town”. Drugs are its ugly secret.

The latest ONS figures show that more than twice as many people die because of drugs in Wales’s second city than in Cardiff, its much bigger neighbour.

Its drug-related death rate is more than double most of the rest of Wales.

Like in Swansea, drug-related deaths in England and Wales are at the highest level since records began 30 years ago.

Although the rate fell slightly in Wales last year, it’s up more than 50% in a decade, and remains higher than the death rate in England.

James struggles with addiction and spoke to ITV News' Wales Reporter Rhys Williams. Credit: ITV News

Opiates were involved in nearly half of such deaths, with heroin and morphine remaining the most frequently mentioned in registrations, according to the ONS.

Rates of drug-misuse deaths continue to be higher among those born in the 1970s, with the highest rate in those aged 40 to 49 years.

The North East of England continues to have the highest rates of drug related deaths, while London and the East of England has the lowest rate for drug poisoning and drug misuse respectively.

Some of the 83 people who died due to drugs in Swansea last year were James Thomas’ friends.

James struggles with addiction, and says it can take months for people like him to get treatment - unless they’re willing to commit a crime, in which case they can get help in days.

James says it can take months for people like him to get treatment.

“A lot of those people I knew very well and I am one of those people that possibly it could happen to,” he said.

“If someone cries out for help, if someone asks for help they should get that help immediately.

"It doesn’t matter whether or not you’re that much of a priority or how high up or down the list you are, I think if you ask for help and you say you’re urgently needing help you should get help straight away."

Martin Blakebrough, the CEO of drugs charity Kaleidoscope, said there has been “too much talk and not enough action” from the Welsh Government on drug-related deaths in Swansea.

He said: “Until they actually start action, we're going to continue these horrible figures and it's letting the people of Swansea down because we know not only do drugs affect people who are taking them, it affects the wider community."

He also said there is a like of cohesion in drug policy across the UK.

“I think what's really disappointing when I look at each of the nations is there isn't a whole systems approach," Mr Blakebrough continued.

"So you go to Scotland and you see they're going to maybe bring in drug consumption rules, which actually can be really, really helpful.

"But then they don't seem to really have sorted out their rehab and detox, so the engagement isn't as good as it should be. 

“You go to Wales and you find some really good innovative practices like the use of Naloxone, but then you don't actually get the rapid access into treatment.

"In England it's very dysfunctional because it depends on the individual local authorities, and on top of that, they are very home office driven not health driven, and this is ultimately a health problem.”

Evidence of Swansea's drugs problem can be found across the city.

A UK government spokesman said: “Illegal drugs devastate lives and every death is a tragedy.

“Our 10-year Drugs Strategy is tackling the illicit supply of drugs, relentlessly pursuing criminal networks, and building a world-class treatment system to turn people's lives around and stop the cycle of crime.

“We are investing £780 million over three years on treatment and recovery.

"In the first year alone we have increased the drug and alcohol treatment workforce and made over 50,000 drug tests on arrest – helping divert people towards life-changing services.”

A Welsh Government spokeswoman said: “Whilst drug misuse deaths have decreased slightly, every drug related death is a tragedy and it is of deep concern that deaths from drug misuse in parts of Wales continue to remain high. 

“Preventing the harm caused by drug misuse has been a key part of our substance misuse agenda and we’ve increased our investment in tackling substance misuse to almost £67m this year.

"We also work with key partners, including the NHS, the police and drug and alcohol charities to ensure support is available for people with substance misuse problems when they need it.”

If you or someone you know is affected by the issues raised in this article, the following charities offer support:

  • Action of Addiction works across all areas of treatment, research, family support and professional education - 0300 330 0659

  • Frank offers confidential advice and information about drugs, their effects and the law - 0300 123 6600

  • Narcotics Anonymous offers support for anyone who wants to stop using drugs - 0300 999 1212

  • Release offers free and confidential advice about drugs and the law on its helpline on 020 7324 2989 or email: ask@release.org.uk

  • We Are With You supports people with drug, alcohol or mental health problems, and their friends and family

  • The UK Addiction Treatment Group offers free online information and guidance for prescription drug addiction as well as a 24/7 confidential helpline on 0808 274 8029.

  • You can also discuss addiction issues with your GP or call 999 in an emergency

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