DRUG deaths in North Ayrshire more than doubled in the first six months of 2018, the Herald can reveal.

In figures obtained, the number of deaths from suspected drug taking jumped from nine in the first six months of 2017 to 23 in the first six months of this year.

Saltcoats and Irvine were the highest affected towns in North Ayrshire, both with nine deaths that have either been confirmed or are suspected to have been caused by illicit substances.

Between January and June across the whole of Ayrshire there were 50 deaths related to drugs.

Twenty one of these have been confirmed and 29 are awaiting toxicology reports.

There were 14 drug related deaths in East Ayrshire, and 13 in South Ayrshire – significantly less than the 23 in the local area.

Outwith Irvine and Saltcoats, the other deaths were recorded to have taken place in Stevenston (two), Kilbirnie (one) and Dalry (two).

A multi-agency approach is being taken across Ayrshire with North Ayrshire’s top cop, Chief Inspector Brian Shaw, telling the Herald: “A multi-agency approach will be taken with all three Alcohol and Drug Partnerships, the Health and Social Care Partnerships and others involved to combat the issue of people dying from drugs.”

A spokesperson for North Ayrshire’s Health and Social Care Partnership explained the work going on behind the scenes to combat the issue and they said: “Taking drugs and medicines, which are not prescribed by a clinician, can have a devastating impact on a person’s health.

"Every drug-related death is a personal tragedy and we seek to learn as much about the circumstances through our local Ayrshire and Arran Drug Death Review Group (specialists from across NHS Ayrshire & Arran, Police Scotland and the three Health and Social Care Partnerships). An agreed Ayrshire framework identifies key improvement areas.

“In addition, North Ayrshire Multi-service Drug Death Prevention Group will report directly to North Ayrshire Alcohol and Drug Partnership (ADP). This will provide a local multi-agency forum aimed at implementing agreed actions at preventing drug related deaths.

“We would always advise people to refrain from taking any drug or medicine not specifically prescribed to them by a clinician.

"People can get help and advice from their family doctor (GP) or their local addiction service if they are concerned about drug use.”