NO TIME TO LOSE
The ‘substantial upward trend’ in drug-related deaths was
explored at the latest meeting of the Drugs, Alcohol and
Justice Cross-Party Parliamentary Group, as DDN reports
he greatest increase
in drug-related deaths
was seen in the
most deprived areas,
explained Dr Ben
Windsor-Shellard of the Office for
National Statistics (ONS), with the
North East of England experiencing
a significantly higher rate than the
rest of the country.
Scotland’s annual increase of
27 per cent gave it the highest
drug-related death rate in the EU,
while drug-related deaths in Wales
had increased by 84 per cent in
the last decade. The 16 per cent
increase in England and Wales – to a
total of 4,359 deaths – represented
the highest annual increase since
There were statistics for
alcohol-specific deaths too, but
the ONS considered these to be
a ‘conservative estimate of the
harms related to alcohol’ as they
only included health conditions
where the death had been a direct
consequence of alcohol misuse,
such as alcoholic liver disease.
While the overall death rate had
remained stable in recent years,
the figures showed – just as with
the drug-related statistics – a
clear impact of deprivation, with
the death rate up to four times
higher in areas where there was
poor housing, unemployment and
adverse childhood experiences.
‘The number of lives lost is the
highest on record, with the vast
majority including opioids,’ said
Sunny Dhadley, representing the
Naloxone Action Group (NAG).
Naloxone was an easy-to-use
SUMMARY OF RECOMMENDATIONS
• INVEST in treatment, including mandating drug and alcohol
misuse services within local authority budgets.
PROVIDE FINANCIAL SUPPORT to local authorities to find
individuals for whom traditional OST has failed and offer them
• SUPPORT the use of medically supervised drug consumption
• EXTEND naloxone coverage.
• EXPAND outreach services.
• EXPLORE policy reform, such as decriminalisation of drug
possession for personal use.
‘We have the ONS
figures every year
and they go up and
up... We have the
the same tragedies.
What can we do
medication in reversing an overdose,
yet it was ‘simply not reaching the
people who need it the most’.
While data was very useful, we
needed to look at all the strands
that currently worked in isolation
from each other – inequality, mental
health, release from prison – and
also align the drug strategy to work
closely with commissioning.
Expanding peer-led initiatives
could help to tackle stigma,
prejudice and racism and he called
for more meaningful service
user involvement. Changing the
situation was ‘not just about
funding’ – ‘we need to address
pathways and functions across
systems,’ he said.
‘I need to add that stigma is
rife,’ commented detective chief
inspector Jason Kew, heroin and
crack action area coordinator for
South East England. ‘I call on all of
us to be leaders and change that
narrative. Stigma kills.’
Lauren Tapp gave insight from
her work at Health Poverty Action.
She talked about the 60 per cent
rise in drug deaths worldwide and
urged the group to think about
drugs as a global issue. ‘There is
an incredible amount of deaths
that could have been prevented by
access to harm reduction,’ she said.
‘Stigma, lack of access to services
and criminalisation make negative
experiences for people who use
Globally, just as locally, ‘we can’t
just think about the war on drugs
in terms of drug poisonings – we
need to think of it in the wider
setting,’ she said. ‘How much
money is going into enforcement
compared to other drugs initiatives,
such as harm reduction and
naloxone? There are better places
that money could be spent.’
The group’s discussion reflected
deep frustration with the lack of
political will to change the situation.
‘We had to do something ten years
ago. We can’t keep saying that year
on year,’ commented Dhadley.
‘We have the ONS figures every
year and they go up and up,’ said
Alex Boyt. ‘We have the same
conversations, the same tragedies.
What can we do differently?’
‘This graph [showing drug
poisoning deaths] tells you
everything that’s wrong with
drug policy in this country,’ added
Karen Tyrell, executive director at
The group resolved to build
on its connections with other
parliamentary groups to push the
agenda forward – beginning with
a list of recommendations that
members believed were realistic
and achievable. DDN
FEBRUARY 2020 • DRINK AND DRUGS NEWS • 11