Drug-related deaths reach record levels in Wales

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Media captionDrug users in Swansea tell the BBC's Rhys Williams they have noticed a rise in substance misuse

Wales had its highest number of recorded drug-related deaths last year, latest figures have shown.

There were 208 deaths registered due to drug misuse, compared with 185 in 2017.

Overall, Wales has seen an 84% increase in drug-related deaths over the last decade, the Office for National Statistics said.

Across England and Wales as a whole, Wales comes second only to the north east of England for the highest mortality rate for drug-related deaths.

The overall number of deaths from drug poisonings in Wales was 327, which includes accidental overdoses and suicides from medicinal drugs.

Swansea, Rhondda Cynon Taff and Neath Port Talbot saw the highest number of deaths by local authority area.

Mohan De Silva, the clinical lead for drugs charity Kaleidoscope Wales, put the high number of deaths down to an increase in drug use.

"We do our very best to help people by promoting harm prevention and looking at ways of keeping people safe, but the reality is that there are more and more people accessing drugs and using drugs, and unfortunately no matter how much harm prevention you give there's likely to be fatalities when you use class A drugs," he said.

"It's down to the fact that perhaps people find it very difficult to cope with some of the stresses of modern life.

"Housing is certainly an issue, homelessness seems to be a key topic that keeps coming up… they find using drugs as one way of fighting the cold and surviving, others don't know any other lifestyle… others have very complex situations and they're struggling to access mental health and self-medicate themselves."

North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones said it was a "national scandal" that people were "dying needlessly" because governments had refused to acknowledge that a radical new approach to drug policy was needed.

Mr Jones, a former police inspector, has called for "fix rooms" to be introduced as the current approach of tackling drugs is "doomed to continue failing".

He said: "We need a new pragmatic, common sense approach that treats problematic drug use as a medical issue and not a criminal matter."

Josie Smith, head of substance misuse at Public Health Wales, said: "Many people may hide drug use or dependency problems and not seek support from loved ones or from services designed to offer support.

"Every effort must be made to ensure that support is sought early on to prevent escalation of problem use and dependency without the fear of stigmatisation or social exclusion and with a recognition that drug use occurs amongst all age groups and all strata of society."

Leanne Wood, Plaid Cymru's social justice minister, said the figures were a "damning indictment of the so-called 'war on drugs'".

"These figures are shocking, and the situation is made even worse when we know these deaths could have been prevented," she added.

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