Hampshire’s top police boss has said she is concerned over the use of opiates in the county that led to an increase in “accidental deaths” last year.

Office for National Statistics figures show there were 82 drug poisoning deaths in Hampshire in 2022 – up from 81 the year before.

Across England and Wales, there were 4,907 drug-related deaths in 2022 – the highest level since records began in 1993.

Of the total drug-related deaths last year, 3,127 deaths were due to misuse, meaning they involved illegal drugs or were a result of drug abuse or dependence.

In Hampshire, 62 of the deaths were identified as drug misuse.

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Some 2,261 (46 per cent) deaths last year involved an opiate, such as heroin or morphine, while 857 deaths involved cocaine, with the number rising for the 11th consecutive year.

Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Donna Jones expressed that the nationwide increase in the use of opiates has a knock-on effect in the Hampshire region, which concerns her office.

The Conservative PCC said: “I am concerned. I’m very concerned and the policing minister, Chris Philp, is in Vienna today, and he is making an announcement about Britain’s determination to prevent untimely deaths through accidental overdoses.

“This is about the drying up of the normal heroin supply into Britain coming from Afghanistan that has significantly slowed over the last 12 months. It has hit America quicker and harder than it has hit us, but the criminal gangs around the world, mainly China, have spotted the opportunity in the market and are creating synthetic opioids which are up to 100 times stronger.”

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These synthetic drugs are also called nitazenes and have similar properties to fentanyl but can be up to 300 times stronger and more addictive than normal plant-based heroin.

The PCC added: “They’re called nitazenes. Heroin addicts are very good at understanding their bodies and knowing how they can manage the self-medication that they take. They will normally take a hit for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, then take a sleeping tablet to sleep throughout the night.

“They know what they’re taking, and when you start to throw into the mix a plant-based drug and perhaps cut with a synthetic opioid, or you think you’re buying up the plant-based illegal substance and actually it is a synthetic opioid 100 per cent, it’s very dangerous. We have had accidental deaths in this county last year towards the end of 2022, and sadly, that is increasing across the UK.”

To tackle the situation, the PCC office is working with the Hampshire Isle of Wight drugs partnership board, the public health directors, needle exchanges, prison governors, and other health experts to raise awareness with the Home Office.

“I really pushed this to the Home Office over the last year since our public health directors here in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight raised concerns to me, and I was able to be raised in the Home Office,” she added.

“The previous Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, went to America last September to visit all around this country and look at what’s happening there and here.

“The Home Office becomes better acquainted with understanding what is happening there. So we all need to work together. Your councils are absolutely pivotal through public health in helping with that, but it is an issue, and unfortunately, I think we’re going to see a lot of it over the upcoming years.”

Cllr Lesley Meenaghan asked the PCC if synthetic opiates have been found in vapes.

PCC Jones said: “Not that I’m aware of. I think that was a case of a nitazene in a vape that a teenager was consuming elsewhere in the country. But I’m really happy to check that, and if what I just gave you is not correct, and we have had traces of that in this county if I’m allowed to share that, I will come through the chair and share that with all of you.”