UK drug deaths reach 5,000 per year

Heroin is currently doing the most harm...
02 April 2024

Interview with 

Peter Furlong from Change, Grow, Live


Couple holding hands


Peter Furlong works for Change, Grow, Live, a charity which helps people with drug addiction. James Tytko spoke to him about why many are calling the current drug death situation a crisis…

Peter - There are many reasons, really, as we know that people have a relationship with illicit drugs, or even prescription drugs. A lot of the time it's to cope with a lifestyle or trauma from early childhood that has been unresolved, it might be actually a lifestyle choice, people use drugs to maximise the pleasure they get from drugs, and some people may use drugs as part of a recreational pattern as well. Alternatively, it could be dependent use. So there are many reasons why we find that people have relationships with drugs.

James - In terms of what sorts of drugs people you work with are most commonly using and which ones are doing the most harm, could you break that down for me?

Peter - Typically it's your opiate drugs that'll do the most harm in terms of illicit use. I mean, alcohol is the biggest killer in the UK in terms of deaths, but if we're talking about illicit use, illicit drugs, it tends to be opiates and heroin predominantly we're talking about.

James - It must be really difficult when, despite the work you do, there are cases when someone who you've helped, who has a harmful relationship with heroin or other opiates, ends up really hurting themselves.

Peter - Yeah absolutely. The number of drug related deaths now is at the highest they've ever been since records began in the nineties, just under 5,000 people a year now dying from drug related deaths, so that's the ultimate harm, isn't it? Every death is a devastation for a number of people, for a family. It is a life that's lost and many times preventable deaths. Preventable if interventions could have been offered and support.

James - Synthetic opioids are becoming more prevalent on the UK drug market, is that a big worry for the vulnerable people you work with? You mentioned opiates already, and these new synthetic opioids can be even stronger and more dangerous.

Peter - Absolutely. It's a really worrying time in the UK at the moment. It was about 2021 we first experienced the synthetics in the illicit supply. Then it sort of disappeared for a little bit but last year it came back with a vengeance, really. We've seen a lot of drug related deaths, overdose deaths, last year and this year. We're seeing a lot more non-fatal overdoses where synthetics have been involved, primarily nitazenes, which is a synthetic opiate that's being introduced to the illicit supply.


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