Drug Law Reform urgent as drug deaths reach record high


Kaleidoscope is devastated to see yet another rise in avoidable drug deaths in England and Wales, evidence that current drug policies are simply not working.

Drug Deaths martin blakebrough kaleidoscope policy reform
  • Opioid Deaths increased by 4.8%
  • Cocaine Deaths increased by 9.7%
  • Benzo deaths increased by 19.3%

The report makes for tragic reading. If any hope can be found, Wales recorded its lowest rate of drug misuse deaths in 2020 since 2014. The rate of deaths per million in Wales was also lower than England, 51.1 and 52.1 deaths per million respectively. The report also cited a decrease of 9.1% compared with the rate in 2019 (56.2 deaths per million).

These figures are worth highlighting, as Wales began the decade with a rate of drug misuse deaths higher than in any region of England, however there is still much to do if we’re to see a real decrease in drug related death.

Wales has not suffered the budget cuts to drug and alcohol services that England has, and there has been greater co-ordination of services from the centre. In Wales drug use is seen primarily as a health issue, but we are still hampered by many Home Office policies enacted by the Criminal Justice System, and this impedes our approach.

Home Office policies prevent us from setting up safer places to inject, and allow for the incarceration of many drug users who fit the profile of real complexity and vulnerability. Inmates with serious mental health issues are left to deteriorate in prison. Today’s figures are loud and clear, when nothing changes, nothing changes.

I believe the roll out of overdose reversing Naloxone is beginning to make a difference, not least because people who use drugs are central to its provision, distributing the kits through peer networks. Our Peer to Peer Naloxone Pilot, co-produced with Welsh Government, saw the peer team deliver 237 lifesaving kits into the hands of those who need them most. That’s 237 more people on the streets of Newport trained to reverse overdose with a kit at their disposal. The target for the pilot was 60, yet the group delivered four times as many in just two months.

In Wales we have also led the way with the novel treatment Buvidal, an opiate replacement therapy which is injected once a month. This frees our patients’ time to focus on improving other areas of their lives, such as finding employment and housing. This medication has become another tool in our treatment toolbox, thanks to leadership at Governmental level and the flexibility of prescribing agencies such as Kaleidoscope and our NHS partners in Gwent and Cardiff.

We urge the Welsh Government to continue to invest in this sector and explore new interventions to prevent avoidable drug deaths. Wales’ needle syringe exchange programmes have saved many lives and acted as a gateway for people to access treatment. We believe making crack pipes available, as a further harm reduction measure, may have a similar impact. Let’s make people safer while making services more accessible.

We also welcome the Welsh Governments’ review of people with co-occurring mental health and substance use issues, and believe that a holistic approach is vital. Wrap around care from housing, mental health and substance use services is essential.

For England, The release of Dame Carol Black’s Review on Drugs contained some welcome solutions. The report acknowledges a drug treatment system starved of investment, and proposes a rise to £552 million in new spending in England after 5 years. Dame Carol estimates the savings will be five times as large, in crime prevention and improved health and social outcomes. Legislative reform however was not on the table, and so the report was limited in its scope.

Ultimately, every person needs hope. Reducing the stigma associated with drug use is critical, and begins with the understanding that those who suffer from drug use are often victims of significant trauma. They deserve inclusive services that address trauma, support with housing, provide the right medical assistance and make training and employment accessible.



Martin Blakebrough

CEO at Kaleidoscope