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Luke O’Neil is Assistant Director for Business Development at Cranstoun. Cranstoun are a UK Social Justice and Harm Reduction charity. Here he writes about changes in the drug scene and a helpful new mobile app.

The UK is the drug death capital of Europe, with drug related deaths having risen consecutively over the past nine years. The drugs available in the UK seem to be changing. During the course of the summer there have been a number of reports of super-strength synthetic drugs leading to yet more overdoses and deaths. In a number of cases, this has included those who are homeless or in temporary forms of accommodation.

The opioids most commonly being attributed to these rising levels of overdose and drug related deaths are called Nitazenes. Nitazenes are significantly more potent than the heroin that the UK is used to seeing and pose a serious risk of overdose, even in very small quantities.

It is believed that the Taliban’s policy on reducing the opium harvest could be causing this development. The clampdown has created a gap in the market here in the UK, with Afghanistan previously supplying 95% of heroin supply into the country.

Synthetic opioids are widespread in other parts of the world, with the fentanyl crisis still gripping North America, with over 70,000 people dying from synthetic opioids in 2022 alone. This is one of the first major outbreaks of these types of drugs entering the mainstream UK drug market.

This is a rapidly developing public health emergency.

People that use drugs on their own are most at risk, with over half of all fatal overdoses being those who used alone. There are a several things that we can all do to make people safer. At Cranstoun, we have worked with partners to develop ‘BuddyUp’, a digital safer injecting service, designed to send emergency help when overdose occurs.

BuddyUp is a smartphone application which enables people to develop tailored emergency rescue plans and to call a Cranstoun supporter via the app. The supporter remains present on the call as they use. If the person becomes unable to speak or respond they are likely to be unconscious and the rescue plan is enacted, with the supporter contacting emergency services who are sent to the callers location.

BuddyUp is a nationwide pilot service available to anyone in the UK and Republic of Ireland. We do not claim to be able to prevent all fatal overdoses with this app but, like the distribution of Naloxone, it is an important addition in the war against overdose in the UK.

We are working with a range of organisations to promote the service, which we know is proven to save lives where it is already delivered in North America. We are keen to work with organisations and people across the housing and homelessness sector to make BuddyUp available to people who we know may use drugs, either within or outside of their accommodation.

Those working within services or those using drugs can download the BuddyUp app from BuddyUp - Cranstoun It takes less than five minutes and the app can be used to call us with any questions or even just to have a chat with one of our supporters for more detail about how it works and what happens when a suspected overdose occurs.

Ultimately, you do not have to be an expert in drug use to reduce the risk of overdose and to save lives. Considering the new information around contaminated drugs, there are a number of key messages that those working in housing and homelessness services should share with those that they support and where drug use is/may be a factor. Please make use of this additional information: Drugs contaminated with synthetic opioids: an updated collective message - Cranstoun

If you would like more information on how to promote or share BuddyUp or on any of the harm reduction advice provided within this blog, then please get in touch with me directly; loneil@cranstoun.org.uk

At a moment when the risk of drug death is higher than ever, by collaborating across sectors, we can be more effective in reducing harm and saving lives.

Download buddyup More advice from Cranstoun

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Jo Prestidge

Head of National Practice Development

Jo is Head of National Practice Development at Homeless Link.