DRUG deaths are soaring in Inverclyde with 19 suspected cases recorded during the coronavirus lockdown.

New police figures reveal a tragic death toll from April to June which represents a substantial rise from 12 months ago.

In the same period last year there were eight confirmed drug deaths and two suspected.

Key figures on the frontline of the battle to save lives, including police Chief Inspector Debbie Reilly and Inverclyde health and care chiefs, have vowed to work together and do everything they can to reduce deaths.

There were 24 drugs deaths in total last year - the highest figure in the last 10 years - but officials fear that could be topped again.

An official report says authorities are currently waiting for toxicology reports to confirm the 19 suspected cases.

Chief Inspector Reilly said: "We have been working closely with colleagues from the health and social care partnership to seek ways in which the number of drugs deaths can be reduced through a multi-agency approach.

"The increase in the number of suspected drug related deaths is always going to be a concern, however at this point these figures cannot be confirmed until further tests are carried out.

"We can't assume the deaths have been as a result of illicit or prescribed drug use."

The rise in drug deaths in recent years has largely been blamed on street valium, heroin and cocaine.

There has also been concern about an increase in drug use among children as young as 15.

Ch Insp Reilly recently launched a campaign with Inverclyde HSCP in schools to warn of the dangers.

The 'Fearless' initiative encourages teens to take action to report drug dealers anonymously.

Ch Insp Reilly added: "Local officers have had regular interaction with young people to highlight the dangers of drugs in the community.

"We understand there are young people who can feel pressured to engage in risky behaviour due to peer pressure, but we are urging them to make the right choices and speak out against those dealers who, quite frankly, don’t care about them."

Inverclyde Health & Social Care Partnership say they are spending millions on support.

They are radically shaking up their drug and alcohol services to create a joint unit, in line with other areas with similar difficutlties, like Glasgow.

The need to tackle the high rate of drug use locally has been singled out as a top priority for health and social care bosses.

An Inverclyde Council spokesperson said: “Drug abuse is not unique to Inverclyde but we acknowledge that this is an area with higher than average levels of addiction and we’re working hard and spending millions of pounds to try and combat the problem.

“The figures published by the police relate to what are largely still ‘suspected’ drug-related deaths and therefore yet to be properly verified.

“Nevertheless, any death due to drugs is a tragedy.

"Anyone who sadly dies as a result of addiction is still someone’s son, daughter, parent, relative or friend and is something none of us wants to see happening.

"That’s why it’s important that we continue to work with those struggling with addiction directly or through our partner organisations and continue to educate people about the dangers of substance and alcohol abuse.”