Highest Ever Annual Increase In Drug Related Deaths Reported

Colleagues from the NHS SMPA have been waiting in anticipation for ONS to release the 2018 drug related deaths figures in the hope that they do not validate what our members have suspected for a while now: that drug related deaths in England and Wales are increasing at an alarming rate.

Unfortunately, our members' fears have been justified with ONS statistics confirming the highest ever annual increase in drug related deaths in England and Wales since records began. There were 4,359 deaths related to drug poisoning in England and Wales in 2018 in comparison with 3,756 in 2017, an increase of 16% year on year.

There was other troubling news, with the ONS report highlighting the continuation of opiate related deaths being the most frequently reported, as well as a return to prevalence of new psychoactive substances (NPS), and a doubling of cocaine related deaths.

These figures continue to reinforce our members' concerns around the literal state of the nation when it comes to the continual erosion of drug and alcohol treatment services across England and Wales. It seems these latest figures are symptomatic of a treatment system, and those services on which the treatment system is reliant (e.g. mental health services, housing etc), being under extreme pressure.

Our members are seeing a growing complexity of service users in terms of their needs which is further compounded by an ageing cohort of opiate users who need ever greater access to physical and mental health services.

We believe that this report further emphasises the need for a focus on effective harm reduction interventions as well as a need to address key stresses on treatment system, such as Naloxone prescribing and the overall capacity of the workforce which has experienced a significant loss of talent, particularly harm reduction specialists.

It is clear that the ability of the treatment system to respond is being stunted by ongoing budget reductions, instability in commissioning arrangements and the overall budget available. As such, we believe that the key question is, when will government draw a line in the sand and decide enough is enough around drug related deaths?

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