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With drugs deaths continuing to rise across England, Wales and Scotland, a working group of NHS and voluntary sector drug treatment providers has published a plan to address the increasing number of people dying from substance misuse.

Collective Voice – which represents voluntary sector organisations in the field - and the NHS Substance Misuse Provider Alliance, with support from Public Health England, has drawn up a set of best practice principles to support efforts across the country to stem the tide of drug deaths.

Pooling expertise

The plan is outlined in the report, “Improving clinical responses to drug-related deaths” and comes as drug-related deaths in England and Wales have risen over the past four years and are now at their highest levels since records began in 1993. Similar rises have also been recorded for Scotland.

In a preface, Collective Voice Chair Karen Biggs, and Danny Hames, chair of NHS Substance Misuse Provider Alliance, say the focus of the document is:

Reversing damaging trend

 Key issues the document focuses on are: identifying risk of drug-related death; delivering safe, recovery-orientated drug treatment; preventing overdose in people who use drugs; meeting physical and mental health needs; and reducing the risk of drug-related death for people outside drug treatment.

The organisations have worked together to produce a set of recommendations for providers with the aim of ensuring that everything possible is done by service providers to help reverse this “damaging trend.”

Recommendations to halt rise in drug deaths

 While not detailing specific figures on the number of drug-related deaths, the report documents critical steps the authors believe providers and those commissioning services should commit to. They want:

  • Drug treatment services to review their information systems to enable data relevant to risk of overdose to be captured and deployed to inform individual treatment plans;

  • Treatment plans to be consistent with the 2017 Clinical Guidelines and individually tailored to balance the protective benefits of OST with the opportunity to safely progress towards recovery, with providers and commissioners guarding against forced reductions or premature removal from treatment to achieve targets;

  • All providers should establish clear protocols for managing the risk of overdose and ensure staff are competent to implement them;

  • Commissioners and service providers maximise their contribution to addressing all the physical and mental health needs of service users;

  • Commissioners and treatment systems to increase local penetration rates to reduce deaths among those who are currently not engaged in treatment or in contact with harm reduction services. Fundamental to this is promoting and expanding access to needle and syringe programmes.

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