11 November, 2019

Spotlight on illegal drugs in North Yorkshire as snapshot survey finds serious worries among communities

North Yorkshire’s Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner is promising action in the battle against drugs across the county as concern grows about the impact of drug-use and the problems it creates.

Julia Mulligan is bringing together key partners and agencies today (Tuesday, 12 November) for a Drug Summit at North Yorkshire Police headquarters in Northallerton. At the event she will set out some of the findings of a snapshot survey taken over the weekend (Friday 8 to Monday 11 November).

Nearly 2,000 members of the public chose to give their concerns to the survey, run by the Commissioner’s office. Among the results:

  • 84% of those who took part say they are more worried about drugs in their local area than 12 months ago – a third a lot more worried, a half more worried.
  • 66% of those taking part are aware of people dealing drugs in their local and 35% have seen it actually happening in the last month.
  • 78% of all respondents are aware of people taking drugs in their local area and 59% have seen/smelt/found evidence in the last month.
  • Of those who had seen dealing or taking, over half felt angry, followed by unsafe and annoyed.
  • While, 79% didn’t report the dealing and 85% didn’t report seeing/finding evidence of drug taking.

Julia Mulligan wanted to take this snapshot of views from across the county to help all partners understand the scale of the problem being faced from the public’s perspective.

The event is bringing together:

  • North Yorkshire Police
  • North Yorkshire Public Health Team
  • North Yorkshire County Council
  • North Yorkshire Sport
  • North Yorkshire Youth Commission
  • Job Centre Plus
  • North Yorkshire Horizons

North Yorkshire Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner Julia Mulligan said:

“North Yorkshire has a problem with drugs. It’s important we say that because we can’t deal with the problem before we admit there is one. Our snapshot survey does not claim to be scientific, but it does show there are real fears and real concerns that we need to address. The vast majority of people who were concerned enough to take part are more worried about drugs than they were last year, with one in three having seen drug dealing in their community within the last month. In my view, one of the most troubling results is another finding which shows parents, in particular those of young men, who are concerned about their child being drawn into drugs.

“I have absolutely no doubt that organisations on the front line are doing some excellent work, particularly supporting those with serious addictions. My concern however is that we are collectively underestimating the wider problem, and in particular how it makes people feel and the impact it has on communities. We need to send a clear message to drug dealers that North Yorkshire is not open for business.  We also need to continue to  educate young people and the public about the dangers of the drugs trade, not least the human misery and exploitation it causes.

“Many will look at somewhere like North Yorkshire and think drugs is not an issue here. They are wrong. We are taking action; but we need to take more. With everyone’s help, and by working together, we will do better.”

Drugs Summit

During her opening speech at the Summit, Julia Mulligan said:

Thank you ladies and gentlemen for coming here today.

You will all be acutely aware that on Saturday 11th May, Leah Hayes tragically lost her life in the Applegarth car park, less than a mile away from where we are now.

Leah’s death shocked me, shocked our community, and of course those who responded to the situation that night and continue to be involved with investigating her death.

Most of all, as a mum of two teenage girls, I can’t imagine how unspeakably awful this has been and must continue to be for her mum, Kerry.

Leah died from an adverse reaction to a minuscule amount of MDNA – ecstasy.

Which I’ve subsequently found out typically costs just £2.50.

Two pounds fifty for a beautiful young girl’s life.

So I wanted us to meet, against this backdrop, to reflect and discuss whether or not we are really doing everything we can to tackle drugs here in North Yorkshire.

I know that many of you, on a daily basis are much closer to the problem than I.

You do really excellent work, to which you are hugely committed, so I wanted to thank you for that.

But I have to say, the reaction to my calling for this meeting has been mixed and at times a little defensive.

Yes, we do need to understand the good work, for that provides the basis on which to build.

But we also need to go beyond the ‘showcases’ and think about what more we can do, and whether or not we need to do some things differently.

I am not here to criticise – I am here to challenge us all – myself included – as a commissioner of services too, on behalf of the public.

I have been in this job for almost exactly seven years. When I began, I had the occasional complaint about drugs, in a few specific locations.

I remember a conversation with a fellow commissioner of substance misuse services who told me that North Yorkshire didn’t have a drugs problem.

That there were a handful of ageing heroin addicts who were being managed and that was about it.

How things have changed.  And over such a short period of time.

Now, at every one of my surgeries, drugs are the pretty much the first thing that people want to talk about.

A friend also told me about his recent visit to the National Park toilets in Grassington. He saw three young men talking in an Eastern European language go into the loos, where in the cubicle next to him he heard numerous pings on their phone, followed by them dividing up a large bag of white powder into lots of tiny bags. He tried to report it via 101 but couldn’t get through.

A couple of weeks ago, in Harrogate, I attended a meeting organised by a fantastic member of her local community, which over 200 people attended. The queue went out of the door, past the fish and chip shop. Their number one concern was anti-social behaviour and drugs.

I have visited schools, where teachers have followed me into the ladies to tell me about what’s going on in their schools and how concerned they are.

I have met leaders of community groups who are patrolling car parks, taking photographs and noting number plates, to gather evidence and intelligence for the local police.

And I have spoken to young people.

Here’s what one – aged sixteen – told me.

It’s at every single party.

The drugs of choice are Calvin Klein, a mix of coke and ket

Diz – spelt with one z, I was told – which is MDNA

Blue Punisher – a mix of MDNA and ket

Nos, or laughing gas, straight from the canister – which may not be illegal but that can cause real harm

They take it because they are stressed, experimenting and out for a good time. They don’t think anything will happen to them and there are no consequences.

It’s mostly the boys who deal – from “nice families, quite rich actually”. They use their snap accounts, selling Blue Punisher. And it’s cheaper and easier to get hold of than alcohol.

So what would help them stop? Certainly not an ‘old policeman’ telling them what to do.

What they need is something graphic and hard hitting. Something to make you cry.

Two pounds fifty.

So on Thursday last week in the run up to today’s meeting, I thought I’d do a straw poll of the public to see what they thought.

It seems that some of you are not very comfortable with my doing this survey as I’ve had emails from senior people saying it’s flawed. So please take this as it was intended – it’s not designed to be academic research, just a simple straw poll.

That I hope might help us understand how the public are feeling.

It opened on lunchtime Friday and closed lunchtime yesterday.

We had just under 2,000 responses in 72 hours. I’ve got a summary of the results here for you all.

Interestingly we’ve also run a postcode analysis using ONS definitions of rural and urban.

88% of people in urban areas are more worried about drugs than they were a year ago. The statistic in rural areas is 81%.

In our very most rural areas 68% are more worried.

75% of people in urban areas are aware of people dealing, 57% in rural communities.

Reporting was very low – only 18% in rural areas and 25% in urban.

For those who did report, 62% in rural areas got a response (though 41% said it was inadequate), and 73% in urban areas (40% inadequate).

Parents are particularly concerned, especially for their boys who they worry may be getting involved in dealing. An echo of my own anecdotal evidence.

But interestingly, when you look at hospital admissions for drug poisoning here – which have shown a steady increase over recent years – there are more males than females.

One also has to ask, for the number of poisonings to increase, how many more people are using drugs?

So whilst my snapshot survey may not be ‘scientific’, it certainly points to widespread public concern, as well as an inequity of service between rural and urban locations.

The very fact that 2,000 people responded in just 72 hours should also make us sit up and think about how we are working, what we are prioritising and whether or not it is effective.

So today, I am very much looking forward to your ‘showcases’, understanding what is going well. But I also want us to reflect seriously:

  • Are we addressing the public’s concerns about drugs in North Yorkshire?
  • Are we doing enough to ‘stem’ the tide? Preventing more serious problems, or is it escalating?
  • Is what we are doing effective; are we having an impact on young people in particular?
  • Is enforcement just that, or is it prevention too?
  • Has our focus on county lines taken our eye off the wider problem?
  • If we have a long term strategy, what are we doing here and now to reassure the public that we are on top of this problem?
  • And what are we doing about explaining to the public that their ‘harmless’ drug taking in pursuit of a fleeting high, fuels an industry characterised by human misery and exploitation.

So ladies and gentlemen, I urge us all to use the time today to understand better what we are doing, to challenge ourselves and to consider what more we could be doing.