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Home > Reducing opioid-related deaths in the UK.

Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. (2016) Reducing opioid-related deaths in the UK. London: Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.

PDF (Reducing opioid-related deaths in the UK 2016)
PDF (Reducing opioid-related deaths - Drug and alcohol findings summary) - Supplemental Material

This independent report by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs investigates the increase of drug-related deaths in the UK. It looks at:
• patterns and trends in opioid-related deaths
• causes and drivers of trends in opioid-related deaths
• policy and treatment responses to prevent opioid-related deaths

Key findings:
Through our brief review of the potential causes of recent trends in opioid-related death, the ACMD can assert with a good degree of confidence that the ageing profile of heroin users with increasingly complex health needs (including long-term conditions and poly-substance use), social care needs and continuing multiple risk behaviours has contributed to recent increases in drug-related deaths.

Other possible causes of recent increases include greater availability of heroin at street level, deepening of socio-economic deprivation since the financial crisis of 2008, changes to drug treatment and commissioning practices, and lack of access to mainstream mental and physical health services for this ageing cohort.

We found that although the current definition and measurement of opioid-related deaths across the UK is consistent and useful, there are weaknesses in current data collection methods that mean the trends over time can be difficult to interpret.

Improving the processes of collecting information on opioid-related deaths would ensure that policy makers have better information to make better decisions to reduce deaths. The ACMD also recommends that governments fund independent research in order to provide a better understanding of the causes and drivers of trends in opioid-related deaths, as well as all other drug-related deaths.

The ACMD welcomes the considerable expansion in the use of OST (opioid substitute treatment) in the UK since the mid-1990s. The ACMD would like to re-iterate the evidence that being in OST protects heroin users from overdose, and increasing coverage of OST has had a substantial effect in limiting the increase in drug-related deaths that would otherwise have occurred. The most important recommendation in this report is that government ensures that investment in OST of optimal dosage and duration is, at least, maintained. Access to allied healthcare and other services to treat comorbid, chronic physical and mental health issues, and to promote recovery from problematic drug use will also be important in reducing premature deaths.

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