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Collective Voice holds first webinar on substance misuse and mortality

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Highly vulnerable people too often fall through cracks in healthcare provision which don’t address the full complexity of an individual’s overall health needs.

In October the Office for National Statistics published the latest statistics for drug-related deaths in 2019, showing – yet again – a record year in almost a decade of increasing deaths and an appalling picture of human loss and suffering.

People who have drug or alcohol problems face disproportionate health inequalities, frailty, and premature morbidity in general. Highly vulnerable people too often fall through cracks in healthcare provision which don’t address the full complexity of an individual’s overall health needs.

And when someone does die, are the systems of care around that person sufficiently able to review and learn from the circumstances around the death or give the necessary time and space for the people connected to the individuals – friends, family and workers – to process what has happened?

Looking beyond the statistics

This week we hosted our first ever online event to consider these issues with a range of speakers from the worlds of substance misuse, inclusion health and multiple disadvantage.

Data and context

Steve Taylor, Programme Manager at Public Health England – Alcohol, Drugs, Tobacco & Justice, gave an overview of the latest statistics on drug-related deaths and the wider context of vulnerability. Steve noted the strong correlation between drug-related deaths and areas of deprivation, but also that drug poisoning are just a subset of drug-related deaths – in 2017, 60% of drug-related deaths among opiate users in treatment were for reasons other than drug misuse poisoning. His presentation also noted that deaths of opiate and alcohol users in treatment during Covid-19 appear to have increased.

Other relevant resources

April Wareham, Director at Working with Everyone, spoke powerfully about the lived experience of people in marginalised communities who face stark health inequalities and underlined the importance of remembering that behind every statistic is a personal story. She advocated for a system that “sees people as whole people, and as part of communities… and lets them set their own priorities.”

Other relevant resources

Dee Menezes, Data Scientist at the UCL Insititute of Health Infomatics, presented from an Inclusion Health perspective, drawing on findings from her research into deaths among homeless people. Her research found a median age of death of 52 among homeless people, with 30% of deaths from conditions amenable to healthcare.

Other relevant resources

System responses

Mike Ward, Senior Consultant at Alcohol Change UK, presented analysis of alcohol-related Safeguarding Adult Reviews as well as the various legal frameworks around alcohol use, mental capacity and care. Shockingly, analysis of SARs by Michael Preston-Shoot showed a quarter of Reviews had as their principal focus a person with alcohol-related concerns.

Other relevant resources

Finally, Steve Moffatt, Senior Policy Manager at the Make Every Adult Matter Coalition, presented MEAM’s forthcoming report on mortality and substance misuse, calling for local processes that are supplementary to Safeguarding Adult Reviews that improve system learning when someone dies.

Other relevant resources

Resource bank

Improving our responses

System learning

Impacts on families

Adfam and Cruse Bereavement Care – BEAD (Bereaved through Alcohol and Drugs) Project

We hope that this can be a developing resource bank for the field. If you have any suggestions for new resources or how we can improve this page then please get in touch with

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Collective Voice is the national charity working to improve England’s drug and alcohol treatment and recovery systems