Intended for healthcare professionals


Escalating drug related deaths in the UK

BMJ 2022; 378 doi: (Published 16 August 2022) Cite this as: BMJ 2022;378:o2005
  1. Maggie Rae, president1,
  2. Joshua Howkins, public health specialty registrar2,
  3. Adam Holland, public health specialty registrar2
  1. 1Epidemiological and Public Health Section, Royal Society of Medicine, London, UK
  2. 2Bristol Medical School, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK
  3. Correspondence to: M Rae

A fundamental reorientation in approach is needed

The escalating rates of drug related deaths in the UK constitute a public health crisis.1 Recently released figures for 2021 show 3060 deaths related to the use of illicit drugs in England and Wales and 1330 in Scotland.23 Although Northern Ireland’s 2021 figures are yet to be released, a record numbers of deaths occurred in 2020.4 The most damning indictment of the UK’s response to drugs is that these figures are no longer surprising because rates have increased for more than a decade to among the highest in Europe.2345 This unconscionable loss of human life cannot be allowed to continue.

The UK government’s 2021 drugs strategy, From Harm to Hope, highlighted that current approaches are not effective in reducing drug related harm.6 Despite this, although the strategy claims it is heralding a new approach, its proposed solutions are echoes of the failed measures that have led to the current crisis. A more …

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