RSPH and FPH release joint statement on the recent ONS report on deaths related to drug poisoning in England and Wales

The recent report from the Office for National Statistics on deaths related to drug poisoning in England and Wales for 2018 showed an increase of 16% on the previous year, meaning that 40 people are dying every week from illicit drug-related deaths in England and in Wales. RSPH and FPH will continue to work together to reduce the harm caused by illicit drug use, protecting the health of the public and of vulnerable drug users.

RSPH and FPH collaborated in 2015 on Taking a new Line on Drugs – a ground-breaking report which called for health harms approach to drugs policy. Our specific calls included that all drug use, whether legal or illegal, is first and foremost a health issue – not a criminal justice issue. We also believe that people suffering from problematic drug use must be treated as patients in need of support, not as criminals. Drug, and harmful alcohol use, are often the result of complex social circumstances such as childhood trauma, exploitation, being in  care and homelessness. We see similar calls in ADPH Vice-President Jim McManus’ recent blog on the ONS report.

Drug strategy should be led by government health departments and so we would support the transfer of some elements of drug policy away from the Home Office to DHSC. We also believe that drug policy should be guided by the best available scientific evidence, rather than by ideology or political expediency and this includes an evidence-based approach to drugs classification. We call for a stronger focus on prevention and the root causes of problematic substance use. Interventions should be delivered by a skilled workforce in collaboration and consultation with peers in recovery and professionals from other areas such as primary care, mental health, housing and employment support. Drug users must also receive equitable access to health services to improve their physical health.

Since our joint report RSPH has campaigned on issues including the testing of drugs at festivals and calling for more funding for drug and alcohol prevention and treatment services. RSPH is working with a number of organisations to establish a Drugs Reform Health Coalition to build support among the public health and broader health community for a health harms approach. FPH has established a Drugs Special Interest Group, which will work to develop and advocate for policies which will improve access to effective, evidence-based prevention, treatment, promote and support long-term recovery and reduce drug related deaths and other health harms.