DEATHS from drug poisoning are on the up in Bradford, hard-hitting new figures show.

The district now has the highest rate of drug-related deaths, per head of population, in West Yorkshire.

Figures released yesterday by the Office for National Statistics show 69 people in the Bradford district died from drug poisoning between 2012 and 2014, a 15 per cent rise from the previous three-year period.

The news prompted one of Bradford's health bosses to say the district needed a major change in the way it treated drug addiction.

Councillor Ralph Berry, portfolio holder for health at Labour-led Bradford Council, said: "Even one death is a tragedy. It's a father, brother, sister, nephew, whose lives are shortened."

He said the authority's public health team was beginning a full review of its drug treatment services, and the new statistics showed "it's going to have to improve".

Cllr Berry said in his view, there was too much emphasis on simply giving people medication which restricted the harm that drugs would do to their body.

He said not enough was being done to help people leave drugs in their past by giving them the support they needed to break free from damaging networks and find training or jobs.

He said he wanted to see the authority develop an "effective, joined-up pathway" from addiction, through recovery, to a "productive role in society", praising the Bradford-based Bridge Project as an example of a service helping drug users to build new lives.

And Cllr Berry warned agencies were also seeing a "resurgence in old-school drugs", with an increasing number of people injecting heroin.

Jon Royle, chief executive of the Bridge Project, said the figures showed just how dangerous it was to take drugs.

He said the drug-using population was ageing which meant they often had complex health problems.

And he said they were also seeing more people mixing cocktails of illegal drugs with so-called 'legal highs' and alcohol, which could prove toxic.

He said: "Occasionally, despite our very, very best efforts, our workers are going to see clients who die, and it is so sad when it is a young person who has got massive potential."

Councillor Mike Gibbons, the Conservatives' spokesman for health, said the focus had to be on educating young people about the dangers of drugs.

He said: "The figures make very sad reading, very sad to those concerned and particularly for their families and friends. Any drug-related death is one too many.

"This kind of number causes considerable concern for the future and various elements will need to be looked at again, including emphasis on education, particularly at a young age, because the earlier we can make someone understand the folly of drug taking, the better."

And Councillor Jeanette Sunderland, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, said she was "surprised that we are top of the league table", because recent council reports had suggested the district's drug and alcohol support services were performing well.

She said: "I will be writing to the chief executive asking for an explanation."

Nationally, the figures show record numbers of people are dying from drug poisoning.

Deaths involving heroin and/or morphine increased by almost two-thirds between 2012 and 2014.

Statisticians said evidence suggested the purity of the drug had increased while the price had fallen, following a "heroin drought" in 2010/11.

Confidential support is available if you are affected by your own or someone else's substance misuse at Bradford Fresh Start Recovery Hub (based at Bridge Project) on 01274 758093 and Airedale Fresh Start Recovery Hub (based at Project 6) on 01535 610180.