Deaths in Cumbria caused by drugs misuse are at their highest point since 1993, new figures show.

Data released this week by the Office for National Statistics shows that 36 people died as a result of drugs misuse in 2019.

This represents the peak of a steady rise in drugs-related deaths in the preceding 26 years, also seen across England as a whole.

A total of 2,685 people died last year in England due to drugs misuse, also the highest number of deaths since 1993.

These figures do not include deaths as a result of alcohol or tobacco use.

While the ONS did not release figures for drugs-related deaths in 2020, the United Nations warned in June that the Covid-19 pandemic could cause drugs use globally to become more dangerous, with closed borders leading to supply issues resulting in dealers mixing their products with harmful substances.

Covid-19 is also causing a rise in people in Cumbria turning to substance abuse as a result of the financial pressures and isolation caused by Covid-19, the head of a leading charity in the county has said.

Leigh Williams, the chief executive of the Cumbria Alcohol and Drug Advisory Service (CADAS) said the charity is increasingly finding itself supporting residents who have turned to harmful drinking and drug taking in the face of the disruption caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

"We've started to see people saying they have turned to harmful drinking and drug taking because of Covid," Ms Williams explained.

Ms Williams said that unlike in the early months of the pandemic, when most of those seeking help from the charity already had existing substance abuse issues, CADAS is now seeing "new dependant behaviours" linked to the loneliness, isolation or the financial pressures brought about by the many and varied indirect effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

She added that there is likely to be repercussions from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic felt by people for years, which could manifest as substance abuse.

"We've seen in the past, with the floods and with Foot and Mouth, when there's a huge incident, the effects are felt for years down the line," Ms Williams said.

"The distress impacts for years afterwards."

Ms Williams added that CADAS has seen an increase in cocaine use across the county.

"Locally, we feel there is a huge issue with the rise in cocaine use," she said.

Cumbrians turning to CADAS for help with cocaine abuse are also reporting to the charity that the supply coming into the county is "stronger" now than in the past.

Ms Williams said she understood this to be a result of the influence of "county lines" drugs supplies, in which organised crime gangs from cities such as Liverpool reach into the county to extend their narcotics network.

"As a result, people using substances such as cocaine are not having to go through several layers of people who will cut it," Ms Williams said.

"As a result, some of the young men we're working with tell us it feels stronger, that it feels different now.

"They might drink alcohol with it to mitigate some of the effects. Now people are coming to us and telling us they are over-using both cocaine and alcohol together."

Mixing cocaine and alcohol use is a particularly dangerous practice, which can increase the risk of an overdose.

Ms Williams added that the problem of the rise in availability of drugs in the county is compounded by "systematic cutting of spending and disinvestment in support services" dedicated to helping people with addiction.

This has been made worse, Ms Williams added, by the struggles faced in the voluntary sector.

"We've just lost three branches of the charity Mind in Cumbria in the last 18 months.

"One in west Cumbria, but South Lakes Mind went first.

"And we're just hearing that Ulverston Mind is closing at the end of March.

"You would argue that now, more than ever, mental health is huge on our agenda.

"If you can't keep three highly-regarded mental health charities open, that's a problem.

"Those charities were tackling lots of issues, supporting lots of clients, as statutory services had to scale back their support or had to re-focus some of their priorities.

"So third sector charity groups have been picking this work up, and these groups have then been having a massive struggle trying to keep their services open - and that was before Covid."

CADAS can be contacted on 0800 254 5658, between 11am and 8pm, Monday to Saturday or through email via