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Rising opioid-related deaths are a public health crisis

18 June 2019

Rising deaths from opioid drug use in England and Scotland are a public health crisis and urgent action is needed, according to Professor Matt Hickman, Co-Director of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Health Protection Research Unit in Evaluation of Interventions at the University of Bristol, and colleagues in an editorial in The Lancet Psychiatry.

Drugs and syringe

In 2017 there were 815 opioid-related poisoning deaths in Scotland, double the number recorded in 2007, and 1,829 in England, a 40% increase since 2007. The number of opioid-related poisoning deaths are the highest since records began again this year. 

The rise, the authors claim, is unlikely to be driven by an increase in the number of opioid users but due a combination of other factors that increase the risk of overdose.

Professor Hickman said: “Opioid overdose deaths are preventable. Some of the factors will be complicated to address – including poly-drug use and managing co-morbidity and retaining opioid dependent people with complex needs in treatment. Our drug strategy needs to adopt a public health framework and re-focus on preventing drug-related harm.

“Current policies and strategies are failing and we are calling on government and public health officials to act. It is difficult to imagine that a similar rise in deaths from another chronic disease would not lead to a call for greater action."

Read the editorial: Rising opioid-related deaths in England and Scotland must be recognised as a public health crisis by Jo Kimber, Matt Hickman, John Strang, Kyla Thomas and Sharon Hutchinson. The Lancet Psychiatry. June 2019.


Further information

About the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Evaluation of Interventions at the University of Bristol

The Health Protection Research Unit (HPRU) in Evaluation of Interventions, based in Population Health Sciences at the University of Bristol, is part of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and a partnership between University of Bristol and Public Health England (PHE), in collaboration with University College London, Cambridge Medical Research Council (MRC) Biostatistics Unit and University of the West of England. We are a multidisciplinary team undertaking applied research on the development and evaluation of interventions to protect the public’s health. Our aim is to support PHE in delivering its objectives and functions. Our focus is on the PHE priority area of infection.  Follow us on Twitter: @HPRU_EI