A statement from 70 organisations calling for the establishment of pilot overdose prevention centres in the UK has been coordinated by the Faculty of Public Health (FPH). Signatories include nine royal colleges, a number of drug treatment agencies, the Association of Directors of Public Health, the Hepatitis C Trust, National Aids Trust and the BMA’s science board, alongside individual signatories.
‘As public health and healthcare professionals, we the signatories can no longer accept the UK’s record number of drug-related deaths without implementing all available evidence-based interventions to save lives and protect health,’ it says. ‘Urgent action is needed to tackle the spiralling rates of drug deaths across the UK.’ The government’s new drug strategy does not go far enough in implementing a public health approach, as it does not include plans for setting up overdose prevention centres, the document continues. ‘In addition to the substantial body of evidence demonstrating that OPCs reduce drug deaths and related harms, we also see no evidence linking OPCs to increased drug use, criminal activity, or associated policing problems,’ it adds.
Meanwhile, a new study published in Lancet Public Health states that the number of deaths for which an opiate is mentioned on the death certificate increased by 54 per cent between 2010 and 2020, to 2,138 deaths per year. The study collected data for almost 107,00 people with a history of illicit opioid use, with a median follow-up of just under nine years.
While opioid-related deaths are also increasing in other countries, the ‘causes of this crisis’ differ, with far greater problems with fentanyls in the US and Canada. Although ‘the long-term trend of ageing and increasing frailty in this population’ is one explanation for the UK’s increasing death rates, the study points out that significant cuts mean that treatment services have been ‘struggling’ to meet their clients’ basic needs – and are also often the only point of contact with wider health services for their client group, it says. ‘The increasing rate of fatal drug poisoning between 2010-12 and 2016-18 in our cohort was not explained by ageing of participants,’ it concludes.
A call to pilot overdose prevention centres (supervised injecting facilities) in the UK at www.fph.org.uk – read it here
Causes of death among people who used illicit opioids in England, 2001-18: a matched cohort study at www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpub/article/PIIS2468-2667(21)00254-1/fulltext