Across England and Wales there is a secret addiction crisis with almost three out of four community pharmacies prescribing the heroin replacement methadone.
At the same time, the number of people dying while taking the heroin substitute has almost quadrupled since 1993.
According to the NHS, methadone is used to help addicts from taking heroin as it ‘reduces withdrawal symptoms’ and ‘helps stop cravings’.
The green liquid is supplied by the pharmacy – often on a daily basis – where the addict has to swallow the dose in front of the pharmacist. Often, addicts are put on maintenance therapy where they will be taking methadone for a long period, possible lasting many years.
According to figures seen by MailOnline, the NHS has spent £80.6 million in prescribing fees for methadone between the financial years 2015/16 and 2022/23.
At the same time, the number of people dying from a methadone overdose has been increasing.
In 1993, 3.5 per million people died from a methadone overdose. By 2021, that had increased to 11.7 people per million. Since Covid-19, there has been a sharp decline in the number of people overdosing on heroin.
The extent of methadone addiction has a profound effect on communities across the nation, including the area surrounding Sandbanks, the celebrity enclave where homes sell for tens of millions of pounds. Even a beach hut overlooking the shoreline in Mudeford can sell for £450,000 – the same price as a four-bed house in many parts of the country.
A short distance away, just yards from the same stretch of coastline, people live in tents, many reliant on drugs.
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A tent just yards from the shoreline in Bournemouth, Dorset, is evidence of deprivation
According to the Office of National Statistics, more than half of opioid misuse deaths occur in seaside locations.
Across England and Wales, the number of community pharmacies has reduced from 11,949 in 2015/16 to 11,414 in 2022/23.
Of the 11,414 pharmacies still operating, 8,249 receive an £8.26 fee for prescribing methadone.
During the last financial year, the bill for prescribing methadone was £10.6million. That figure does not include the cost of the medication, or the price paid by society for having so many people living with long-term addiction.
Such is the extent of the problem, the NHS has treatment protocols for pregnant women, from those who are taking heroin and need to switch to methadone, or who become pregnant while on maintenance treatment.
A short walk from this scene, homes can sell for millions of pounds, some of which are purchased to be demolished and replaced by something more extravagant
In Bournemouth homeless people are often spotted drinking on the street, but there is also problematic drug use in the community
According to an NHS warning: ‘If you take methadone at the end of pregnancy, your baby may be born dependent on methadone. Your midwife will check your baby for any withdrawal symptoms. They can be treated in hospital if they need it.’
The NHS also suggests that breastfeeding while on methadone ‘may also help reduce withdrawal symptoms in your baby’ despite having linked the drug to ‘breathing problems and drowsiness in a few breastfed babies’.
According to the most recently available figures, there were 2,219 deaths involving opiates in 2021, a slight fall of 1.9 per cent on 2020.
However, while the number of deaths attributed to heroin are declining, the figures show that methadone fatalities are increasing.
The data shows that six out of ten of the highest death rates are in seaside resorts or coastal areas popular with families and tourists.
Methadone is an man-made heroin substitute which his highly addictive. Addicts who are offered methadone often remain taking it for many years
In the north west, Blackpool, with its world famous pleasure beach and tower has the worst opioid death rate in the country.
Hastings, with its regal history is also in the top ten, but most surprisingly of all may be the inclusion of Bournemouth – home of the exclusive celebrity resort of Sandbanks.
Harry Redknapp is currently trying to secure planning permission to build an Italianate waterside mansion to replace the existing £7m home on the site.
Yet, across the water, in the area overlooked by sandbanks, there are significant drugs problems.
In May, police raided a hotel in Bournemouth while investigating county drug lines gangs supplying drugs to Swindon.
But recent raids have led to the closure of the ‘Scouse Les’ county line between Liverpool and Bournemouth and several different county lines between London and the holiday resort.
Police in Dorset have raided several county lines drugs gangs supplying Bournemouth and the surrounding areas with heroin, crack cocaine and other drugs (Pictured: A recent police raid)
Dorset Police have been involved in Operation Scorpion which has been targeting County Lines drugs gangs operating in the South West
Bournemouth has one of the highest opioid misuse death rates in the country
One gang, operating the ‘Paz’ county line from south east London sent dealers on the train to sell heroin and crack cocaine.
It had an estimated turnover of £100,000 in four months.
Local police have been involved in Operation Scorpion since the beginning of the year, involving five forces in the south west region.
Between Monday, October 9, and Sunday, October 15, officers recovered more than £93,000 in drugs, charged five people, recovered 17 mobile phones and rescued three ‘vulnerable’ adults’.
Eric Lawrence said: ‘It’s not surprising in the slightest with what I’ve seen. I’ve lived in the town for five years and I can see it has gotten worse and it’s easy to spot wherever you are in the area.’
John, a former member of the armed services, pictured, said there has been a decline in the area. He said: ‘There is no dignity anymore and a total lack of standards throughout the town, especially in the town centre’
Residents of Bournemouth say they aren’t surprised it has ranked in the top 10 for heroin and methadone hotspots in England and Wales.
Local resident Gary Caruthers said he was surprised the town didn’t come lower from his experience.
He said: ‘I’m quite surprised it’s not lower than just top 10.
‘There’s a high degree of drug activity in the town and it gives Bournemouth a bad reputation which is unfair.’
Eric Lawrence said: ‘It’s not surprising in the slightest with what I’ve seen.
‘I’ve lived in the town for five years and I can see it has gotten worse and it’s easy to spot wherever you are in the area.’
John H, a retired member of the armed forces, has labeled the town as having a ‘lack of standards’ and feels the town isn’t what it used to be.
He said: ‘There is no dignity anymore and a total lack of standards throughout the town, especially in the town centre.
Gary Caruthers, who lives locally said: ‘There’s a high degree of drug activity in the town and it gives Bournemouth a bad reputation which is unfair’
One resident said: ‘Year on year you can see an increase in drugs around the town in little discrete areas and doorways’
A resident said: ‘I’ve heard people call the town a crack city but I didn’t realise it got this bad. The ranking is pretty impressive’
‘I know it’s quite bad and the town isn’t as nice as it used to be but I am a little surprised that it’s in the top 10.
A local litter picker claims he doesn’t want to live in one of the worst places on the list if Bournemouth is only in the top 10.
The 65-year-old, who did not want to be named, said: ‘The drug situation is rife in the area and quite terrible.
‘The whole place has had it, it’s obvious and they are very open about it now.
‘If Bournemouth is only in the top 10 then I wouldn’t want to live in any place lower.’
Another resident has noticed an increase in activity in doorways especially coming home from work late at night.
The 64-year-old said: ‘Year on year you can see an increase in drugs around the town in little discrete areas and doorways.
‘I’ve heard people call the town a crack city but I didn’t realise it got this bad. The ranking is pretty impressive.’
A 65-year-old, litter picker, who did not want to be named, said: ‘The drug situation is rife in the area and quite terrible. ‘The whole place has had it, it’s obvious and they are very open about it now’
Between Monday, October 9, and Sunday, October 15, officers recovered more than £93,000 in drugs
Despite the extent of the problem, the Home Office’s strategy paper ‘From Harm to Hope: A 10-year drugs plan to cut crime and save lives’ does not mention the word ‘heroin’ or ‘methadone’ once in its 52-page report.
Although there is a section on long-acting opioid substitution treatments’.
The findings into a study into the treatment of opioid addiction is not expected to be published until 2025.