Highest ever number of drug-related deaths for Cornwall

Safer Cornwall is a partnership of public, voluntary, community and private organisations who come together to do all that they can to make Cornwall’s communities safer. The partnership has recently released a report on drug-related deaths in Cornwall.

These increased in 2020 by 9 deaths to 40 (+22.5% from 2019). This is the highest ever recorded number of drug related deaths for Cornwall and is the third successive annual increase. In the same period nationally, the increase is 3.8%.

Cornwall Council is warning of the dangers of new drugs circulating in Cornwall following a rise in the number of drug-related deaths last year. There is no quality control for illegally produced drugs. It is therefore much harder to know what these drugs are made from and how strong they are.

Thirty-three people (82.5%) died in 2020 from a death that involved an opiate drug, 5 more lives lost than the previous year. Deaths involving heroin decreased by 36%; 22 deaths in 2019 to 14 in 2020. Cocaine featured in 15 of the deaths (37.5% of the total, – 5 deaths and 27% from 2019). After three successive annual increases since 2016 this is a notable decrease. 17.5% of cases in 2020 involved the presence of heroin and cocaine compared to 52% in 2019 (a reduction of 34.5%). This is in line with marked decreases in the presence of heroin and cocaine in 2020 toxicology results.

Conversely, deaths involving methadone increased from 9 (29%) in 2019 to 15 (37.5%) in 2020. Of these, the deaths where illicit methadone was a factor increased from 3 (9.7%) to 7 (17.5%).

9 deaths (22.5%) involve previously unseen illicit benzodiazepine drugs which are much more potent than prescribed benzodiazepines. 22 cases involve diazepam and 27 (67.5%) feature any benzodiazepine being present.

Sid Willett, drug-related death prevention lead at Cornwall Council, said: “It is clear that illicit benzodiazepine drugs are becoming an increasing problem in Cornwall and our first priority is to look at how we can reduce the harm caused by these drugs. We need to help drug users to recognise the dangers of these substances, which are very powerful, and to support people with drug issues to seek help.

“We also identified that pain management continues to be a considerable factor in drug-related deaths. Last year 50% of the deaths involved people who have been enduring high levels of pain.

“We are continuing to improve joint working arrangements between drug and alcohol treatment services and health professionals to better identify those at risk of turning to the illicit market for help.”

The highest rate of drug related deaths occurred in the 50- 59 age group (11 deaths or 27.5%).

72.5% of cases did not have any alcohol present within toxicology, slightly down from 77% in 2019, continuing the downward trend since 2017. Thirty-eight (95%) feature more than one drug being present and contributing to the death. 2 deaths (5%) feature only one drug in toxicology and these were cocaine and morphine.

Deaths involving a gabapentinoid drug such as Pregabalin have reduced from 45% to 27.5%- 3 less deaths for 2020.

Twenty-two people died whilst engaged in drug treatment (55%) or within 6 months of leaving drug treatment. 18 (45%) had no link to drug or alcohol treatment or had been out of treatment for over 6 months.

Two deaths involved a synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonist (SCRA) such as the colloquially named ‘spice’ drug or synthetic cannabis. This has not been seen in Cornish drug related deaths previously.

Mr Willett said: “We are seeing more drug overdoses in Cornwall. However, once we can get people into treatment, we can help them to stabilise and reduce the risks to the individual and others.”

Councillor Carol Mould, portfolio holder for Neighbourhoods at Cornwall Council, said: “I would like to thank our drug support services for all their hard work over this really difficult period and urge anyone with drug issues to reach out for support.
“It is sad to see there has been a rise in drug-related deaths in Cornwall and we will continue working with our partners to help those in need.”

With You is a charity providing free, confidential support to people experiencing issues with drugs, alcohol or mental health. If you would like advice for yourself or someone you know, call 0333 200 0325 or go to the With You website.

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