RPS calls for action to reduce harm from drugs

We're calling for urgent action to tackle the record number of drug related deaths in Great Britain. Proposals include beginning trials of supervised drug injecting facilities in specialist centres, and making Naloxone, an injection that reverses an opioid overdose, available through community pharmacies.

Last year there were 4,561 deaths related to drug poisoning in England and Wales, whilst in Scotland there were 1,339 drug related deaths, the highest rates seen since records began.

We're calling on Governments across Great Britain, pharmacy organisations, contractors, and members of the profession to address this crisis by working together to reduce harm from drugs and improve the health of people who use drugs.

Proposals published highlight where pharmacy can contribute to the treatment and prevention of drug harms and make 14 recommendations for how improvements can be achieved, including:

  • Naloxone to be available from every community pharmacy and staff trained to use it
  • Regulated drug injecting facilities should be introduced and use of Heroin Assisted Treatment (where heroin doses are administered under medical supervision) should be expanded as treatment options, with pharmacy input from the start
  • All pharmacists should have access to shared patient records and clear communication pathways with other health care professionals involved in the care of people who use drugs.

We're also a signatory to a letter from the Faculty of Public Health calling on Government to take steps towards piloting implementation of regulated drug injecting facilities to save lives and reduce harm.

Evidence* demonstrates that such centres are effective in preventing drug deaths. There has never been a fatal overdose reported in over 130 sites worldwide.

RPS President Professor Claire Anderson said: “It’s deeply concerning that drug related deaths and hospital admissions continue to rise across Great Britain. Many of these deaths are preventable.

“Pharmacists, and pharmacy teams, already play a big role in supporting and providing treatment to people who use drugs, as well as offering harm reduction services and advice. RPS wants to build on this fantastic work by enabling them to do even more to reduce harm from drugs.

“Urgent action is needed to tackle the high level of drug deaths across the United Kingdom. Wider availability of naloxone and the piloting of regulated drug injecting facilities will require resource and expertise but will make a significant impact on unnecessary deaths.”

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* Marshall BDL, Milloy MJ, Wood E, et al. Reduction in overdose mortality after the opening of North America’s first medically supervised safer injecting facility: a retrospective population-based study. Lancet 2011;377(9775);1429-37. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(10)62353-7.

* Irvine MA, Kuo M, Buxton JA, et al. Modelling the combined impact of interventions in averting deaths during a synthetic-opioid overdose epidemic. Addiction 2019;114(9);1602-13. doi:10.1111/add.14664.