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Call for better police and NHS coordination with Tower Hamlets Council as drug deaths rise

PUBLISHED: 12:00 19 August 2019

Drugs sweep at, Bethnal Green uncovers haul of drugs in Roman Road in 2017. Picture: Mike Brooke

Drugs sweep at, Bethnal Green uncovers haul of drugs in Roman Road in 2017. Picture: Mike Brooke

Mike Brooke

Drug deaths have bucked the national trend in the East End and gone down compared to the shock 16 per cent rise across the country in just 12 months.

Mayor John Biggs... Mayor John Biggs... "Drugs have devastating impact on people, families and communities." Picture: Mike Brooke

But the mayor of Tower Hamlets isn't satisfied with the fall and is calling for better co-ordination between the council, Met Police and NHS.

"Tackling drug crime and drug use needs co-ordinated action," John Biggs insists.

"Drugs have a devastating impact on people, on families and generally on communities, from loss of life to crime linked to the drug trade.

"These latest figures about drug-related deaths are deeply distressing.

Police raid premises across Tower Hamlets and seize suspected cocaine and crack from dealers in June 2018. Picture: Kois MiahPolice raid premises across Tower Hamlets and seize suspected cocaine and crack from dealers in June 2018. Picture: Kois Miah

"But the reality is that a decade of austerity is taking its toll on vital services."

Drug deaths last year hit the highest level since records began 25 years ago, latest Office for National Statistics figures reveal. More than 4,000 people died in Britain from drug poisoning in 2018, a shock rise of 16 per cent in one year.

Yet the numbers have fallen in Tower Hamlets, the mayor concedes, with deaths down from 86 in 2014-16 to just 65 in 2016-18.

The new Met Police borough commander for Tower Hamlets and Hackney, Det Supt Marcus Barnett, told the East London Advertiser: "Working with the local authorities is important.

Det Chief Supt Marcus Barnett... new Met Police borough commander for Tower Hamlets and Hackney. Picture: Mike BrookeDet Chief Supt Marcus Barnett... new Met Police borough commander for Tower Hamlets and Hackney. Picture: Mike Brooke

"I can go out and do enforcement all day long and take out a problem like a drugs market.

"But it's all just going to come back if you don't look at the root causes and don't look at providing social care, education and health provision."

Government cuts have forced local authorities to slash spending on drug treatment services by 27pc since 2015 and by half in some areas with the highest rates of drug-related death, Prof Alex Stevens from the University of Kent has told the BBC.

New pledges have now been made by the prime minister on raising police numbers and spending on the NHS.

Illicit drugs 'factory' uncovered in police raid at Limehouse in 2016. Picture: Mike BrookeIllicit drugs 'factory' uncovered in police raid at Limehouse in 2016. Picture: Mike Brooke

Taking on 20,000 more officers by 2022 has been announced by Boris Johnson, putting police numbers back up to 2010 levels, and promising £1.8billion for the NHS that could go towards drug treatment services.

Each £1 spent on drug treatment would save £2.50 to society, Public Health England estimates.

But Tower Hamlets believes government pledges on police numbers and NHS funding "do nothing to reverse the damage austerity has done" to public services already.

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