A police boss has called for urgent action to reduce the number of women dying from drug overdoses in North Wales.
Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner Ann Griffith spoke out after hearing that 19 women died from overdoses in just two years.
According to Ann Griffith, the number of deaths is even more shocking as statistics reveal fewer women are actually using drugs.
She said: “I find it horrifying that between 2014 and 2016 so many women died as a result of overdoses. This is an issue we really need to address as one death is one lost life too many.
“It’s clear to me that drug use in women is different to the same issue with men. It seems in women the issue is often quite closely related to early trauma and domestic abuse which can lead to a cycle of drug abuse.
“I believe in some cases drug dependency follows a lifetime of struggle and abuse. It results in illegal substances flowing through their lives and means they are locked into a cycle of drug taking which is often made worse due to abusive relationships.”
But the Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner also believes accessing help with addiction is more difficult for women and that can results in even more deaths.
She said: “The UK life expectancy for women is now as high as 83. In female drug users it’s as low as 49 and we have to go all the way back to 1901 to find a time when the mortality rate for women was that low.
“Women dependent on drugs isn’t just a problem we are finding in urban areas, it affects rural villages too. If we are to deal with the issue of drug use properly we need to recognise it’s a problem affecting all communities.”
“One issue that can lead to overdose and potential deaths is the fact that some women drug users are self-medicating behind closed doors as they feel unable to access the help they so desperately need.
“Too often there is a stigma with drug dependency and women won’t ask for they help they need. They don’t want people to know they have a drug problem and they fear losing their children.
“No one chooses to become a drug addict and often these women are trying to mask serious mental health issues caused by early childhood or ongoing trauma exacerbated by their often chaotic domestic circumstances.
“There is also an issue in that all too often specialist drug treatment programmes are dominated by men. Facilities, with three quarters of the service users being male, can be intimidating for some women.
“I am convinced that, with help and the right support, when women are ready they can actually turn their lives around, care for their children and elderly parents and contribute to society in a positive way.”
Reducing the risk and harm to vulnerable drug users, she said, was a priority for her boss, Arfon Jones the North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner.
She added: “Providing a clean and safe place for drug users where they can also access help would be a step in the right direction and would help reduce the number of deaths caused by drug dependency across North Wales.
“But giving people the opportunity to address the underlying causes of their addiction should be a priority for all agencies and also the Welsh Government.
“Without a coordinated multi-agency response to what is a crisis will only result in more and more families being destroyed and more and more children losing their mums.”
It was a sentiment echoed by a drugs expert who believes it’s vital women feel they can seek help when they need it.
Drug Aid Cymru director Ifor Glyn said: “It’s always an issue that women, when they have children, are reluctant to get help. It maybe through fear of losing their children or just the fact they simply don’t want to be seen as a bad parent.
“The potential is that if they don’t seek help the end result can be more unnecessary loss of life through overdose.
“There is also an issue that more men seek help from drug services than women. I personally don’t think that means there are less women taking drugs. There is a hidden population of females regularly taking drugs and in danger of overdosing.”
Cllr Nicola Roberts, from Anglesey, agrees the issue needs to be tackled head on.
She said: “The problem with drug addiction is that as a society we tend to sweep it under the carpet.
“What we need is to be doing is addressing the issue by looking at the causes of addiction. I know from deprived areas such as Llangefni in my own council ward just how drugs can take a hold.
“We have to somehow break the cycle of drug use among women and address why they turned to drugs in the first place whether it was due to an abusive relationship, social isolation or simply peer pressure.”