There has been a sharp rise in the number of overdoses linked to people using drugs in several areas across England, Public Health England (PHE) has warned.
There are early signs that the overdoses may be caused by heroin mixed with a potent and dangerous synthetic opioid, but further work is needed to confirm any links between the cases. To date, there have been at least 46 poisonings resulting in 16 deaths but investigations are still ongoing. The areas affected include South London, the South East, South West and East of England.
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‘We are urging drug users to be extra careful following reports of a sharp rise in the number of overdoses potentially connected to heroin, tragically with some deaths. We are urgently investigating with the police and local partners,’ said Rosanna O’ Connor, Director of Drugs, Alcohol, Tobacco and Justice at PHE.
‘We strongly advise anyone using drugs not to use alone and to test a small amount first.’
PHE has issued an alert to all local public health and drug services, making them aware of the problem and asking them to reach out to drug users outside of the drug treatment system.
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Drug service staff have been asked to ensure that all drug users, and anyone who might be with them if an overdose occurs, understand how to spot the signs of an overdose and always carry naloxone and know how to use it.
There is good evidence that naloxone prevents opioid overdose deaths. Drug service staff can provide naloxone to anyone without a prescription, and the availability of nasal naloxone now makes it easier for people to use naloxone. While drug death rates do vary across the country, PHE say it is vital that all local areas ensure wide availability of naloxone and training in its proper use.
‘If someone does overdose it’s vital to act fast, call for an ambulance immediately and if possible use the opioid antidote, naloxone, which can save lives,’ added Ms O’ Connor.
‘We strongly advise all drug users to get support from local drug services, as being in treatment greatly reduces the risks of harm and overdose.’