'Recovery is possible' says former user as North East drugs deaths remain highest in country

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A former drug addict has told ITV Tyne Tees that "recovery is possible" after he turned his life around during the past year.

Speaking in response to the latest Office for National Statistics report, which shows the North East still has the highest rate of drug poisoning related deaths in England and Wales, Brandan said he has recovered and been clean from drug use for the last 11 months.

He said: "I was using every single day, doing things that I wouldn’t normally do. Getting myself into bother, manipulating my family. Just doing everything that I could to get my next fix. I nearly lost my life a few times. I was on the verge of losing my family. I was so close to becoming homeless."

Naloxone on charity's table. Credit: ITV News

Reunited with his family, he recently attended a Christmas party and said what his mother told him, really hit home.

He said: "She gave me a cuddle and she said ‘oh, I’m really proud of you, keep doing what you’re doing'. She’s never said that in my life and that gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling in my belly because I have a purpose now to help other people and pass the message on that recovery is possible. I’m lived experience of it."

North East has the highest rate of drug poisoning related deaths in England and Wales. Credit: ITV News

According to the latest ONS statistics, the North East still has the highest rates of deaths relating to drug poisoning at 133.9 deaths per million compared to the national average for England and Wales at 84.4 deaths per million.

It also has the highest rate of drug misuse deaths at 81.7 per million compared to 53.9 per million people nationally.

Brandan has been supported by the Redcar and Cleveland-based charity, WithYou. The charity offers counselling, naloxone training to prevent overdoses and outreach work within communities to support nearly 700 clients.

Brandan said without the charity's support he would "probably be dead or in prison".

WithYou supports nearly 700 clients in Redcar & Cleveland Credit: ITV News

Vicki Clarkson, from the charity, said referrals to the service have substantially increased over 2023.

She said: "We have noticed an increase in referrals for cocaine clients, specifically crack cocaine. In terms of opiate users, we are getting younger people through on our referrals and our numbers have gone up hugely.

"It's hugely worrying, our at-risk groups are experiencing poverty, deprivation, homelessness, and an ageing population, so they’re getting increased physical health issues.

"People who’ve used substances, they’ve experienced trauma, so they use substances to blank off that trauma.

"As a service, we’re committed to looking at that trauma and we’ve got a lot of staff trained in trauma-informed care."

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