'Change approach' call to cut drug deaths
A specialist GP practice on Teesside has called for professionals to "explore their approach" in tackling the drug problem.
Drug deaths in England and Wales reached record levels last year, official figures have shown, with the highest rate in the North East.
Middlesbrough's Foundations Medical Practice makes getting drug users rapid access to treatment a priority.
It says people are less likely to die if they are engaging in services.
Daniel Ahmed, a clinical partner with the team, said: "We find there are a number of hoops for people to get into treatment.
"We've changed that so you can effectively come into our service and get treatment from 20 minutes to an hour and a half - this isn't common at all."
As part of his call to "explore its approach" he wants the government to consider legalising and regulating drugs.
He said: "Portugal, for example, has moved resources from punishment to a health-based approach. You can count their drug deaths on your hands.
"The war on drugs is effectively a war against people [and], as in any war, it's the most vulnerable who suffer.
"These are not evil people - this is somebody's mother, somebody's brother.
"It's our community that's dying."
Drug misuse has a north-south divide
Drug related deaths per million people, 2018
Mr Ahmed pointed to the Teesside Cannabis Club, which was set up in 2014 and claims to have the support of local police forces.
"It's a safe space for people", he said.
He says their approach should be copied and used for consumption rooms for other substances, such as heroin.
"It's clean and they've been common around the world for 20 years - and in that time there hasn't been a single drug-related death in one of these facilities," he said.
He is not alone in advocating safe places. Durham Police and Crime Commissioner Ron Hogg has backed supervised "shooting galleries" where heroin addicts would be given medical grade heroin.
Mr Hogg said existing national policies had not been effective and there was "an awful lot of evidence both in the UK and across the world that such schemes do actually work".