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Expansion of life-saving opioid overdose treatment

New 10-year plan to expand and improve the drug and alcohol workforce published.

  • Police officers, probation workers, paramedics, nurses and other professionals will be able to provide take-home supplies of opioid overdose treatment to save lives.
  • New 10-year plan to expand and improve the drug and alcohol workforce published.
  • Part of government mission to reduce drug deaths and support people with recovery

More professionals such as nurses, paramedics, police officers and probation workers will be able to supply a life-saving opioid overdose antidote without a prescription to save the lives of the most vulnerable, the government has announced. 

The government will shortly update legislation to enable more services and individuals to provide take-home supplies of naloxone, which almost immediately reverses the effects of an opioid overdose by reversing breathing difficulties. 

This means the medicine can be given to a family member or friend of a person who is known to be using opiates - such as heroin or opioids including potent synthetic opioids like fentanyl or nitazenes - or to an outreach worker for a homelessness service working with people who use these drugs, to save lives in the event of an overdose. 

Alongside this, the government is publishing a new 10-year strategic plan to expand and improve the drug and alcohol treatment and recovery workforce.  

This is the first national workforce plan for this specialist part of the health workforce in England and outlines key milestones to grow, train and develop staff. This will include bringing more new and experienced professionals into the sector and developing better training for roles that are currently unregulated such as drug and alcohol workers.   

Health and Social Care Secretary Victoria Atkins yesterday said:  

Opioid addiction can ruin lives and is responsible for the largest proportion of drug-related deaths across the UK.  

We are working hard to reduce those numbers by expanding access to naloxone to save the lives of the most vulnerable. 

Our 10-year workforce plan will expand and boost the training of the next generation of drug and alcohol workers to improve services and support people to get their lives back on track.

The workforce plan builds on the government’s 10-year drugs strategy to combat illicit drug use and reduce drug deaths. Expanding access to naloxone will contribute to the government’s ambition to prevent nearly 1,000 drug-related deaths in England by the end of 2025, reversing the upward trend for the first time in a decade. 

As part of the strategy, an additional £532 million is being invested between 2022 and 2025 to improve the capacity and quality of drug and alcohol treatment. This additional funding is supporting the expansion of the workforce by the end of 2024/25 with:  

  • 800 more medical, mental health and other regulated professionals
  • 950 additional drug and alcohol and criminal justice workers
  • more drug and alcohol commissioners in every local authority to commission services more effectively

More than 3,900 additional staff have already been recruited using drug strategy funding.  

The new workforce plan, developed by the Office for Health and Improvement (OHID) and NHS England (NHSE), builds on this progress and maps out the next 10 years of workforce transformation with key 1-year, 3-year and 10-year milestones.   

This includes 

  • New training curriculums for three currently unregulated roles by March 2025. These roles are drug and alcohol workers, children and young people’s drug and alcohol workers and peer support workers. Accredited training will be available for these roles by March 2027 and the first cohorts of trainees will complete their training by March 2029.
  • More addiction psychiatry training posts to expand the bank of posts currently available by March 2025.
  • More regulated professionals working in the sector will mean services have high-quality clinical governance and clinical supervision in place by March 2027.

Naloxone can currently be administered by anyone in an emergency but can only legally be supplied without prescription by a drug and alcohol treatment service to a person to take home for future use.    

The government will update legislation via a statutory instrument to expand the number of services and professions which can supply the medicine over the next few weeks. 

It follows a public consultation in which the responses were overwhelmingly supportive of proposals. 

Opioid-related deaths make up the largest proportion of drug-related deaths across the UK, with an average of 40 deaths a week, and widening access to naloxone for those at risk of overdose will make a substantial difference.  

In 2022, opioids were involved in:  

  • 73% of drug misuse deaths registered in England
  • 60% of drug misuse deaths registered in Wales
  • 82% of drug misuse deaths registered in Scotland
  • 60% of drug misuse deaths registered in Northern Ireland

Notes to Editors  

  • Dame Carol Black’s independent review of drugs called for radical reform of the drug and alcohol treatment workforce, leadership, funding and commissioning, so that services can be rebuilt and transformed to meet the needs of the people they serve.
  • The government’s 10-year drug strategy, From harm to hope: A 10-year drugs plan to cut crime and lives, committed to developing “a world-class drug and alcohol treatment and recovery system across England, delivered via a highly trained and motivated workforce offering a full range of evidence-based interventions.”
  • The workforce plan will be followed this summer by a new drug and alcohol treatment and recovery workforce capability framework. This new framework will identify the core capabilities of 15 core roles in the sector. It will help to ensure safe and effective practice across drug and alcohol treatment and recovery services.    ##Additional quotes

Dame Dame Carol Black, independent advisor to government on drugs, yesterday said:

When I did my independent review of drugs, I heard first-hand what a lifesaving intervention naloxone is.

Widening access to naloxone is key to reducing the number of lives lost to overdose and will help support the government’s ambition to prevent nearly 1,000 deaths in England by the end of 2025.

I am pleased to see such a strong positive response to the consultation and welcome the government moving forward with these important changes.

I am delighted that the Government has delivered on one of the key recommendations from my independent review of drugs with a new 10-year plan to help rebuild the drug and alcohol treatment and recovery workforce. It is imperative that this vital, specialist part of the health workforce has the skills and capacity to help people who are dependent on drugs and alcohol make positive changes to their lives.

Clare Taylor, chief operating officer at Turning Point and interim chair of Collective Voice which represents third sector drug and alcohol treatment providers in the UK, yesterday said   

The expansion and professional development of our treatment and recovery workforce is recognised in both Dame Carol Black’s Independent Review of Drugs and From Harm to Hope. It is absolutely critical if we are to achieve the ambition, we all hold for a world class treatment and recovery system. 

The new workforce plan sets out a clear set of actions to increase capacity in the system and the quality of services. 

It recognises the need for the right mix of medical and mental health professionals working alongside keyworkers and peer support workers and should help strengthen clinical governance to enable the best possible outcomes for the people we support. 

Working in this sector can be incredibly rewarding and formalising training routes and developing better opportunities for career progression will help ensure it’s a sector people want to join. 

Continued funding of the drug strategy beyond March 2025 is now essential in ensuring these plans can come to fruition and we as a sector are able to reach more people. 

Dr Sarah Stacey, Chair, Division of Clinical Psychology’s Faculty of Addictions, British Psychological Society (BPS) yesterday said:   

We wholeheartedly welcome the publication of the 10-year drug and alcohol treatment and recovery workforce strategic plan. 

The plan recognises the vital role that practitioner psychologists hold in multi-disciplinary teams, supporting workforce development through clinical leadership, supervision, and knowledge of relevant evidence. Psychologists and wider psychological professions also provide effective interventions that acknowledge the underpinning causes and contexts through which problematic drug and alcohol use and co-existing difficulties develop. 

In addition to the forthcoming capability framework and workforce calculator, the plan provides a strong foundation for delivery of training, supervision, and accreditation, building on the passion and commitment of the sector. 

The focus on workforce wellbeing and career development supports the development of high quality, effective treatment and recovery services. We look forward to collaborating closely with OHID and NHSE colleagues and welcome the commitment to addressing training, recruitment, development, and retention of psychologists in drug and alcohol services.

Alice Wiseman, Vice President of the Association of Directors of Public Health, yesterday said:    

Staff on the ground working in this area are extremely dedicated and do an amazing job and, over recent years, we have focussed on recruitment and workforce development in order to support the delivery of high-quality services for this vulnerable patient group. However, the workforce is under immense pressure and deserves more sustainable employment, support, recognition and training.    This ten-year plan promises to give that recognition and support which is very welcome news, as is the commitment to expanding the workforce to include a wider range of professional expertise.  

It is vital now that we make sure this investment is sustained and that these roles continue to be filled by high quality people long into the future so that people needing treatment receive the very best support to stay healthy long after treatment ends.

Dr Ed Day, the government’s National Recovery Champion, yesterday said:   

I welcome the new 10-year strategic plan and its aims of deepening the quality and broadening the knowledge of the workforce. This will be crucial if we are to deliver a full continuum of care from harm reduction, through engagement and behaviour change, to long-term recovery support.

The clear timescales plot a road map to rebuilding the full range of regulated professional roles within the field, alongside proper accreditation of the drug and alcohol worker role.”  

The emphasis on strengthening clinical supervision in the short term, and training and accreditation in the longer term, will allow a greater focus on delivery of quality psychosocial interventions.

I particularly welcome the definition of the peer support worker role and everything that it can bring to the treatment and recovery system. This role is a crucial part of the recovery-oriented system of care and requires its own training and supervision structure to ensure that it has parity of esteem in the wider system.


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