RCPsych Wales comment on latest findings on drug related death

Figures released today (18 Sep) from Public Health Wales' Harm Reduction Database Wales: Drug related mortality, Annual Report 2018-19 show that drug-related deaths in Wales are at their highest levels on record.

The number of people dying from drug poisoning has increased by 78% in just 10 years, while there has also been a rise in deaths of younger people from substances such as cocaine and MDMA.

Drug misuse deaths, a subset of drug poisoning deaths, increased by 12% from 185 deaths in 2017 to 208 in 2018, with Wales having the second highest rates of drug misuse deaths in England and Wales regions.

Deaths were more than four times more likely to occur in the most deprived areas of Wales compared to the least deprived.

The report noted a rise in deaths involving cocaine, amphetamine and MDMA tended to involve younger people in their 20s.

A third of all drug deaths reviewed saw "no known contact" between those that died and any local health, social care or criminal justice service in the 12 months beforehand.

The health agency's report makes a number of recommendations to tackle the increase, including protecting drug users from prosecution when seeking medical attention, and reclassifying heroin substitute Take-Home Naloxone as an over-the-counter medication.

Josie Smith, Head of Substance Misuse at Public Health Wales, said the increasing availability of drugs was causing the rise in drug deaths, and warned the trend was set to continue.

She added: "Given the scale of problem drug use in Wales, it is likely that every member of the population will know someone affected by, or experiencing difficulties with drugs be they illegal or prescribed, but may be unaware.

"Evidence is clear that seeking support early on can prevent escalation of problem use and dependency, however, fear of stigmatisation and social exclusion may be barriers to this. Consideration needs to be given to how this can be overcome in Wales to prevent future tragic deaths."

Professor Keith Lloyd, chair of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Wales said:

“With the number of people dying from drug poisoning increasing by 78 per cent in just 10 years, we are now at crisis point and this should serve as a wake-up call to the government.

“Years of austerity, shortages in professional skilled staff and underinvestment in addiction services mean people living with multiple needs cannot be helped properly.

 “The top priority should be to get more people into effective treatment and ensure health services can keep up with demand.

“We should be targeting young people and local communities, especially with hard to reach groups such as the homeless population.

“We need action on this issue before the problem spirals out of control and destroys more lives.”