Drug-related deaths in the UK

First published: 30 March 2019 | Last updated: 20 May 2019


Roy Robertson has worked as a GP in Edinburgh since 1980 and in the University department of General Practice since 1990. He has had a special interest in HIV/AIDS and injection drug use. He was a member of the ACMD for 10 years and is a member of several Scottish advisory committees. He was a member of three committees which published the National Guidelines on treatment of drug misuse and advisor to two Westminster Parliamentary committees. He was Chair of the Home Office Shipman committee and was Chairman of the Scottish National Forum on Drug Related Deaths for 8 years and is now Chair of the Scottish Governments advisory group on Drug Related harm. He has published papers on HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis C and injecting drug use epidemiology. He is Professor of Addiction Medicine in the University of Edinburgh Usher Institute. He is a member of the Royal Medical Household and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Presentation Summary

The talk was an overview of the background to the current understanding of the increase in drug related deaths in the UK and an attempt to interpret the figures and explain the causes and implications of the rising numbers. The rapid increase in numbers in the last two years in England and the continuous upward trend in Scotland are partially explained by the increase in heroin purity but also by the cohort effect and legacy phenomenon from the rapid growth of drug use in the late 1970s and early 1980s. They are also a drug policy failure requiring urgent attention.

The recommendations from the Advisory Council reports from the years 2000 and 2017 and the policy document from UK and Scottish Governments were outlined and the continued relevance of their interpretations of the need for policy initiatives and clinical practice changes were presented. Conclusions were reached that the evidence base was at best being neglected and at worst being ignored by policy advisors in Government and urgent recognition of the importance of medical assisted treatment is needed.

Other evidenced based initiatives such as harm minimisation measures, clinical support for multimorbid conditions and rollout of take home naloxone are all essential baseline services which at present are under developed.


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