DRUG-RELATED deaths have more than doubled in parts of North Yorkshire, according to figures released today.

During 2001 there were 3.56 deaths per 100,000 of the population over the age of 16 in the eastern section of North Yorkshire, covering Hambleton, Ryedale and Scarborough, compared to 1.53 the previous year.

The figures, compiled by The National Programme on Substance Abuse Deaths, amount to a 132 per cent increase in the number of drug-related deaths, and show that drug-related deaths have risen steadily in England and Wales over the past five years.

Most recently, there has been an increase from 1,296 deaths in 2000 to 1,498 last year, with increases in cocaine-related, amphetamine-related and ecstasy-related deaths.

Bucking the trend is East Riding and Hull, which has shown one of the UK's biggest annual decreases.

The rate there has gone down from 5.7 deaths per 100,000 of the population over the age of 16 to just 2.8, a decline of over 50 per cent.

The data was compiled at St George's Hospital Medical School, in London, from coroners' reports which show that heroin and morphine is implicated in 39 per cent of cases nationally, down eight per cent on 2000. However large increases were found in cocaine-related, amphetamine-related and ecstasy-related deaths.

Ninety-five cocaine-related deaths, a rise of 42 per cent, were recorded between 2000 and 2001, and 33 amphetamine-related deaths, a rise of 57 per cent, and 43 Ecstasy-related deaths, which is up by 26 per cent, were also found.

For the first time, a death was reported involving para-methoxyamphetamine (PMA), a synthetic compound similar to, but more toxic than, Ecstasy (MDMA).

Today's report, Drug-Related Deaths as Reported by Coroners in England & Wales, also includes some data from Northern Ireland and Scotland for the first time.

In York, coroner's officer George Rawling reported that 2001 had seen a total of eight drug-related deaths, of which six had ended in verdicts of drug dependency.

This year had only seen one such case so far, with the verdict relating to dependency, although several more similar cases were pending. Mr Rawling said there would be a likely total of about six or seven drug-related inquests by the end of the year.

"The figure is slowly but surely getting higher," he added.

"There is a very slow drift upwards, unfortunately."

Former York City star Gordon Staniforth has joined the fight against drugs after his son Thomas died after taking Ecstasy.

The 20-year-old footballer, of Copmanthorpe, died in August 2001 after collapsing outside a York nightclub.

An inquest found that he died principally of a brain swelling caused by Ecstasy, but a viral condition was a contributory factor.

York Coroner Donald Coverdale said at the inquest in April that it was the first he had conducted involved a death caused by Ecstasy and Thomas's case had shown what a dangerous substance it could be.

Updated: 11:37 Thursday, October 31, 2002