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Drug deaths paper wins European scientific award

27 November 2018

A paper co-authored by Professor Matthew Hickman, co-Director of the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Evaluation of Interventions at the University of Bristol, with Professor John Marsden (National Addiction Centre, Kings College London) has been awarded a European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCCDA) scientific award.

Syringe and drugs

The award celebrates scientific writing and distinguishes high-quality research in the field of illicit drugs. Scientific papers judged to enhance understanding of the European drug problem are acknowledged yearly in an award ceremony, which will take place at Lisbon Addiction Conference in 2019.

The paper, ‘Does exposure to opioid substitution treatment in prison reduce the risk of death after release? A national prospective observational study in England’ was published in the journal Addiction in February 2017. It won in the ‘Demand reduction intervention’ category.

The paper reports on a study that found that providing opioid substitution therapy in prisons was associated with a 75% reduction in all‐cause mortality and an 85% reduction in fatal drug‐related poisoning in the first month after release.

Professor Hickman said: “People dependent on opioids, especially if they inject drugs, have a high risk of premature mortality. Leaving prison is a particularly risky time for people who have been detoxified or stopped using opioids. Our study showed that prison-based opioid substitute therapy (OST), with oral methadone or buprenorphine, is a highly effective means of reducing the risk of death among prisoners in the first four weeks after release. The clinical decision to withdraw prisoners from OST should be made with care and further support.

“It is wonderful to get recognition for this important research. Drug related deaths are a major public health problem and we hope that our research can go some way towards helping reduce the harms”.