Raising the alarm on synthetic opioids – why the UK should not be complacent

This week, The Forward Trust put out a national alert to its staff on synthetic opiates – CEO Mike Trace explains why.

Week after week, alert after alert to frontline drug services – it’s clear that synthetic opiates are here and are entering the UK drug supply with more frequency than any of us would like.

Look across the pond at the US and the devastation of synthetics dominates illegal drug supply. The scale of the US public health crisis is notably different to the UK, but this disparity should not be a cause for complacency. A UK-specific response is required and it’s important to raise the alarm. Whilst treatment services are starting to warn their clients about the dangers of new synthetics hitting the UK, the rising scale of the problem means the message needs to go out much more widely to the public.

That this isn’t just a drug services problem. The earlier we trigger a comprehensive response the better. Impactful measures rolled out in some services need to be factored into a national response and they need to be factored in quickly. We need:

  • A national public health campaign to alert drug users (and wider public) on the rise of synthetic opiates in UK drug supply.
  • Accessible and simple ways to check drugs for synthetic opiates, through drug checking services in healthcare settings, in the nighttime economy and core community settings.
  • A continued and accelerated role out of naloxone to key frontline public servants such as police, prison officers, GP’s and wider charitable services – with dosage required to address synthetic opiate overdose.
  • Ease of access to naloxone in UK towns and cities, focussed on key at risk groups such as street homeless population.
  • Accelerated data collection, and rapid testing/screening on any suspected overdose that results in naloxone treatment, or any suspected overdose death – triggering urgent public health response in local areas.
  • Continued and increased access to drug treatment and recovery support services, demonstrating to people in a cycle of addiction that another way is possible.

There is no doubt that the drug market in the UK is shifting in a worrying direction. Yet, we know there are measures we can take. Accessible and accurate safety advice, harm reduction services, and always offering people living with addiction a practical way out. At policy level, the government and local authorities have to get over their squeamishness about ‘tolerating drug use’, and facilitate the interventions that will reduce the risks of overdoses and deaths.

Ultimately, the long term solution to this challenge is to reduce demand for opiates in the first place. Addiction, no matter how entrenched, is a treatable condition. Recovery from it is possible, with the right levels of support and access to specialist interventions.

It would be a great tragedy if our response to synthetic opiates missed the most important element to disrupting a drug market – taking people out of it and giving them the chance of a different life. We believe this is not only possible, but fundamental to any response.

If you are worried about drug use for you or your family, Forward’s Reach Out chat service is available Monday to Friday, 9am-3pm. If you suspect you have or someone in your company has taken or is experiencing an overdose, this is a medical emergency. Call 999 immediately.

This blog was originally published by The Forward Trust. You can read the original post here.

Related articles:

(Features, November 2023): Stayin’ Alive, Now’s the time to get out strong messages on nitazenes –  Information and resources.

(News, August 2023): Better utilisation of data and data sharing, including early warning systems, is needed to address the escalating drug crisis in the UK

(Partner Updates, September 2023): Release, alongside EuroNPUD and other drug treatment service colleagues in the UK, have produced harm reduction advice on nitazenes.

(Features, June 2017): Meet the Fentanyls, a guide to the fentanyl family by Kevin Flemen.

(News, January 2023): Fentanyl behind 80% increase in New York’s overdose deaths

Search the DDN archive for more on nitazenes, fentanyl and synthetic opioids.

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This blog content was created by The Forward Trust

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