Pubdate: Sun, 03 Nov 2002
Source: Observer, The (UK)
Copyright: 2002 The Observer
Author: Tony Thompson


With its vibrant nightlife, thriving gay scene, massive beach parties and 
celebrity residents such as Fat Boy Slim and Julie Burchill, Brighton has 
long-styled itself the 'capital of the South' and is regularly voted the 
coolest city in Britain. But behind the glamorous media image lies a 
different claim to fame.

Brighton has been revealed as the drug deaths' capital of Britain with more 
overdoses and fatalities per head of population than London, Manchester or 
Glasgow. At least one person in the city dies as a direct result of drug 
use each week and the problem has become so acute that heroin overdoses are 
the leading cause of death among Brighton men aged 20 to 44.

So many patients at local accident and emergency wards are there because of 
drug problems that the local health trust has appointed a special substance 
misuse nurse at the Royal Sussex County Hospital in a bid to tackle the 
problem. According to a new report, based on figures supplied by coroners 
around the country, Brighton has an annual death rate of 28 per 100,000 
population over the age of 16. This is the highest in Britain and more than 
twice that of inner London.

The report's co-author Mike Pollard, of the Department of Addictive 
Behaviour at St George's Hospital medical school in London, said: 'The area 
is a seaside city and popular tourist spot and that is an important factor. 
It tends to draw people to it. If an area gets a reputation for drug use, 
then it can be difficult to get rid of.'

Officially, there are around 2,000 intravenous drug users in the city, but 
the true figure is far higher. The majority of deaths are believed to occur 
among these 'hidden' addicts. Many of these users tend to inject into main 
arteries rather than veins and are scared to seek help because they fear 
arrest. Many users in Brighton mix heroin with alcohol and tranquillisers, 
greatly increasing the danger of overdose.

The number of deaths in Brighton has remained high, in spite of the efforts 
of police and drug action teams, as well as a series of high-profile cases 
in Sussex which drug workers hoped would serve as warnings to other 
addicts. Last month an inquest heard how Kevin Everitt, a long-time drug 
addict, had been hailed as a hero after battling through a smoke-filled 
house to rescue his neighbours. Six days later he died from a heroin 
overdose after an argument with his wife.

There has also been widespread publicity over the case of teenager Amy 
Pickard who has been in a coma since being found unconscious with her 
lover, Michael Morfee, after a heroin overdose in a public toilet in June 2001.

She was pregnant and her daughter, Summer Louise, was born by Caesarean 
section. Severely brain-damaged because of her mother's addiction, the 
child died after two days.

Tormented with grief, Morfee returned to the same public toilets five 
months later and killed himself with a heroin overdose.

News of the drug death rate emerged on the day Brighton learnt it had 
failed to make it onto the shortlist to become European Capital of Culture 
for 2008. The city had been trying to reduce its drug problems and had 
staged a year of special events to showcase its credentials for the bid.

Across Britain, the number of drug-related deaths has increased 
significantly. The report found there were 1,498 cases in 2001, compared 
with 1,296 in 2000. Heroin/morphine is implicated in the majority of cases, 
but this figure is down by 8 per cent on the previous year.

Big increases were found in the number of fatalities attributed to other 
drugs, with cocaine-related deaths up by 42 per cent and 
amphetamine-related deaths up by 57 per cent. There were 43 ecstasy-related 
deaths, a rise of 26 per cent, with the first death attributed to 
paramethoxyamphetamine (PMA), a synthetic compound similar to, but more 
toxic than, ecstasy. More tablets containing PMA are being recovered.

Areas that have previously had significant drug problems, including 
Reading, Coventry and West Yorkshire, all report far lower death rates than 
in previous years.
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