The number of crack cocaine and opiate users across South Tyneside stands at more than 700 - with campaigners warning “pocket money prices” are putting those as young as 15 at risk.
New figures show that across the region, almost 19,000 people are estimated to be using the substances - a 2,000 rise in the last five years - with the region found to have the highest prevalence of users in the 25 to 34 age group across the country.
Across South Tyneside, 737 15 to 64-years-old are said to be using both crack and other opiates, but addiction treatment experts at UKAT say it is worrying the figures do not include anyone using cocaine in its powder form, amphetamines, ecstasy or cannabis.
UKAT has said it is particularly concerned that within the region, the number of 15 to 24-year-olds using both crack and opiates stands at almost 1,500.
The figures cover the 12 months from April 1, 2016, with 18,983 users identified across the region.
UKAT’s chief executive office and a former addict Eytan Alexander: “Public Health England’s data clearly shows that an alarming number of teenagers and young adults are addicted to these incredibly potent substances.
They’re seeking the feeling of euphoria at pocket money prices - crack rocks can be purchased for as little as a fiver with dealers available any time of day at the click of a button.Eytan Alexander
“They’re seeking the feeling of euphoria at pocket money prices - crack rocks can be purchased for as little as a fiver with dealers available any time of day at the click of a button.
“Teenagers misusing crack and opiates at such an early age will not only suffer with the physical effects of the drugs, but the drugs could impact their education, overall achievement in life and expose them to a criminal environment at a young age, without full understanding of the risks and consequences of their actions.”
He added it is not just the younger population of the North East addicted to crack and opiates.
The number of people recorded as using crack cocaine only aged 25 to 34 stands at 6,160 with a further 11,348 people addicted to opiates aged 35 to 64.
Mr Alexander added: “The impact of a person misusing these drugs in later life has a knock-on effect on their family, children, spouses as well as their own personal health, which will deteriorate at a much faster pace if drug use continues, and for some, will prove fatal.”
Four sources of data were available within which people who use opiate and/or crack cocaine could be identified - drug treatment, probation, police and prison data.
Detective Chief Inspector Alan Cairns, from Northumbria Police’s Priority and organised crime department, said: “We know that there are vulnerable drug users across our force area who are being supplied with substances which put them at risk, and that has to stop.
“Under the banner of Operation Sentinel, our initiative to tackle serious and organised crime, we are actively pursuing the people who are supplying these harmful substances and looking to bring them before the courts.
“Our message is very clear, if you involve yourself in this type of criminality, then we will come for you and use all the powers at our disposal to disrupt this illegal activity.
“We also work closely with our partners and third sector agencies to ensure we have a joined up approach to tackling the issue of drug supply and substance misuse.
“I would also like to thank the public for their continued support in the fight against drugs. You are our eyes and ears on the ground and will have information which can help us target those responsible for supplying harmful substances in your community.
“If you have information about drug dealing in your local community then please pick up the phone and call police.”