Boost harm reduction to halt deaths, government urged

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The government needs to ensure that the provision of the ‘whole range’ of harm reduction initiatives is in place to address increasing rates of drug-related deaths, according to a National Aids Trust briefing endorsed by Blenheim, Release, IDPC, SMMGP and others. 

The use of drug consumption rooms should be considered.

The document also urges the government to take on the ACMD’s recommendation that naloxone be made ‘routinely available’, as well consider the use of consumption rooms in areas of high-prevalence drug use. The government should also take steps to minimise the impact of local authority budget cuts by requiring councils to provide drug treatment by law, it adds.

Despite ‘compelling and extensive evidence’ for the cost-effectiveness of harm reduction initiatives, political and financial support for them have ‘sharply declined’ in recent years, says Still no harm reduction? A critical review of the UK government’s new drug strategy. The 2010 drug strategy’s emphasis on abstinence ‘failed some of the most vulnerable people who use drugs’ while this year’s strategy ‘barely mentions’ harm reduction and proposes no concrete plans to tackle rising death rates, says the briefing. This is in ‘sharp contrast’ to Ireland’s new strategy documentReducing harm, supporting recovery, which includes support for the provision of consumption rooms (DDN, September, page 5). 

Cuts in public health spending are already having a ‘severe impact’ on the quality of harm reduction services, the briefing continues, with the King’s Fund predicting a further £22m hit to drug services over the coming year (DDN, September, page 5). However, the end of the ringfenced public health budget in 2019 will carry a ‘very real risk that even the priorities set out in the drugs strategy will fail to be implemented’, it warns, as there is no mandate in law for local authorities to provide drug services. 

‘Across the UK, we can already see the consequences when people are not able to access harm reduction initiatives easily, such as the recent outbreak of HIV among people who inject drugs in Glasgow,’ the briefing states. ‘There has also been a devastating spike in drug-related deaths, with deaths involving heroin and morphine rising by 109 percent in England and Wales between 2012 and 2016. In 2016, there were 3,744 drug-related deaths in the UK, the highest since records began in 1993. We should not underestimate the scale of the issue: eight out of every thousand people in the UK struggle with opioid use.

Briefing at www.nat.org.uk