17 May 2024

  • The rate of deaths by drug poisoning in the UK rose 81.5% between 2012 and 2022, according to ONS figures, and are now at their highest volume since records began
  • Police officers, probation workers, paramedics and nurses will soon be able to provide take-home supplies of opioid overdose treatment naloxone, in a bid to reduce opioid deaths across the UK
  • At Rehabs UK, we have previously calculated that reducing homelessness in the UK could prevent over 160 lives being lost to opioids each year, by tackling the cause of the issue rather than the symptoms

“Let me start by saying I 100% agree that naloxone should be handed out without prescription.” Says Lester Morse, Rehabs UK’s founder. “Without a doubt it will revive some people who are overdosing, but we shouldn’t be lured into a false sense of security.

“Naloxone is a rescue medication; its purpose is to reverse opioid overdose. It’s important to keep reminding people that naloxone, like many other harm minimisation tools, is not a treatment for an opioid use disorder.

“My biggest concern is even if it does manage to bring down the death rates, it doesn’t solve the problem of all the people addicted to these drugs, who will probably eventually die from addiction related illnesses. Will the government then stop or reduce funding treatments to help people come off drugs and into recovery? You can bring down the death rates, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you are reducing the suffering of the people suffering from addiction or their families.”

Related reading: The impact of 10 years of cuts to government addiction services, 2022

On the question of how naloxone might impact people’s motivation to reduce and stop using drugs entirely, Morse states “There are so many people in addiction these days, every combination of circumstance will exist. Reviving people so they can do it again and eventually die isn’t great! Some people will fall into a false sense of security and put themselves in further harm, but I think the good far outweighs the bad in this situation.

“The USA has been giving out naloxone without prescription for a while now, you can see it definitely saves some people and that’s fantastic! Dead people never get better. The trouble is when you have a complicated problem like addiction, and so many people involved in it, it’s hard to see what’s best for the overall population. The ideal situation would obviously be nobody taking these drugs, but with that not being a realistic option, we have to try and keep as many alive as we can in the hope that they find a way to stabilise or stop.”

Related reading: Treating addiction with medication

Drug and alcohol treatment services are already able to provide naloxone, while police officers, social workers and probation officers - among others - will be new to this process. Morse describes this change, saying “In desperate times we need desperate measures.

“I think there is a sense of – ‘if you can’t take them to a consumption room then we need to take the consumption room to them. The truth is, it’s hard to make the situation of someone overdosing worse. Without intervention it’s over for them. Naloxone is relatively safe under those circumstances. In some areas of Pennsylvania, naloxone was present at 92% of overdoses. That's an amazing achievement – the UK should hope to see the same level of success in making this available

“Naloxone is not difficult to administer, with basic training giving confidence to those involved! All of this is worth it if we save even one life.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, Rehabs UK is here to help. Rehabs UK is committed to continuing to support those battling alcoholism, drug addictions and behavioural addictions. To access free assessments with trained treatment advisors, contact Rehabs UK.