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 today 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 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

From: Department of Health and Social Care, The Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP, and The Rt Hon Victoria Atkins MP