In the United Kingdom, in 2020, there were 4,517 deaths related to illicit drug use; the highest rate of drug related deaths since records began. It is necessary to provide the full range of evidence-based drug treatment and harm reduction interventions to prevent these deaths.
Overdose prevention centres are healthcare facilities where people consume their own drugs under the supervision of trained staff who intervene in the event of an overdose. These sites are provided in at least 13 countries, but not the UK. International evidence demonstrates they reduce drug related deaths, encourage safer injecting practices to prevent infections and increase engagement with wider drug treatment and support services.
In December 2021, the Faculty of Public Health published an open letter calling for pilot overdose prevention centres in the UK. This call was supported by 84 leading organisations, including Royal Medical Colleges, public health bodies, drug service providers, academic and third sector organisations; and numerous individual signatories.
In response, the Government argued that there is no legal framework to run overdose prevention centres in the UK. Although there is no law which specifically bans such services, offences such as drug possession would be committed within them. Under the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001, some acts that would otherwise be controlled by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 are already exempt from criminalisation, in order to enable services that reduce harms.
Over the past year, the Drug Science Enhanced Harm Reduction Working Group has been researching the feasibility of setting up pilot overdose prevention centres in the UK. This work has demonstrated there is a clear need for the services in areas with high levels of drug related harm, and cross-agency support for their introduction.
We call on the Government to amend the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001 to make it easier to establish pilots of overdose prevention centres. This is an easy step that would not require primary legislation. It would help local agencies to build the evidence base and save lives.
Please consider signing the open letter below: