£5 million fund to tackle fatal drug deaths across the UK

12 projects awarded a share of £5 million to reduce rates of fatal drug overdoses, as part of Vaccine Taskforce style approach to tackle health challenges

  • Projects will look at how AI and other innovative technologies can detect overdoses to alert healthcare professionals, family and local communities to provide emergency lifesaving support to people who use drugs
  • Technology to support those in need and contribute towards Prime Minister’s priority to cut waiting lists

People at risk of drug deaths could be saved by overdose detecting artificial intelligence or antidote dispensing drones after the government awarded a share of £5 million to projects aimed at tackling fatal overdoses.

As part of the Reducing Drug Deaths Innovation Challenge which aims to reduce drug related deaths across the UK, Office for Life Sciences is investing in 12 promising projects to develop technologies aimed at improving detection, response, or intervention in potential drug related deaths.

It supports the Addiction Mission, one of the government’s healthcare missions targeting the biggest healthcare challenges, including through funding innovative research into improved treatments and life-saving technologies to accelerate their development and rollout.

Building on the Vaccine Taskforce model which led to one of the most successful vaccine roll outs in the world and ensured millions got a COVID-19 jab, the government will continue to harness world-leading research expertise, remove unnecessary bureaucracy, strengthen partnerships and support the new healthcare challenges.

More widely, funding will help the Prime Minister’s objective to improve urgent and emergency care and increase the resources available to healthcare professionals to treat drug overdoses.

Minister of State for Health Will Quince said:

"Drug use has a devastating impact on people’s health, their families and their livelihoods and every year over 4000 people in the UK die from an avoidable drug overdose.

"We want to stop people taking these substances and support them to recover from their addictions, while preventing those most at risk from dying from overdoses.

"This fund forms part of our healthcare mission programme as we take a Vaccine Taskforce style approach to some of the biggest challenges facing our society today, backed by over £200 million."

This challenge is also being delivered in partnership with the Scottish Government as part of their National Mission on Drugs.

The winning projects will operate across all four nations of the UK and range from AI technologies to detect overdoses, to emergency systems using drone technology to deliver antidotes, and wearable technologies such as smart watches or breathing monitors to detect overdoses and alert healthcare professionals, family, or members of the community to the need to intervene.

Eleven projects have been awarded up to £100,000 each to launch four-month feasibility studies to develop prototypes, with one additional project securing up to £500,000 for a year-long demonstration study to collect real world evidence with residents of homeless accommodation. The studies will begin in September. Any of the feasibility studies that show promising results will be able to apply for up to £500,000 grants to carry out follow on 12-month demonstration projects starting in May 2024 to evaluate and collate real world evidence of their technology with people from population groups most at risk of overdose.

This funding supports wider government initiatives to tackle drug misuse in society. The UK’s Drugs Strategy, published in December 2021, has a key objective to prevent 1000 drug deaths in England by 2025. This aligns with work within and across the 4 nations of the UK, to improve systems of support and reduce drug related deaths. The Addiction Mission, as part of this strategy, is aiming to enhance the UK-wide research environment and incentivise the development of innovative and effective new treatments, technologies, and approaches to support recovery, and reduce the harm and deaths addiction can cause.

Professor Dame Anna Dominiczak, Chief Scientific Advisor for Health, Scottish Government said:

"It is truly inspiring to see some of the innovative solutions that are being supported through the Reducing Drug Deaths Innovation Competition and the partnership between the Chief Scientist’s Office in Scottish Government and the UK Government’s Office for Life Sciences.

"Tackling drug related deaths is a huge priority for the Scottish Government and NHS Scotland, and our commitment to tackling these issues through targeted research, innovation and support can be seen in recent figures, showing a reduction in drug-related deaths in Scotland, the lowest annual total since 2017.

"Utilising the expertise in Scotland and across the rest of the UK, we can continue to deliver results in harm reduction, developing truly impactful innovations and driving prevention initiatives, having a hugely positive impact both across the UK and globally."

Science, Innovation and Technology Minister, George Freeman, said:

"Every single death from drug misuse is a tragedy, which has an awful impact on that person’s loved ones and community - and thousands every year are avoidable with better detection and faster intervention.

"The UK is already a world leader in much of the work this £5 million Challenge will support – from our £94 billion life science sector through to our AI industry which supports 50,000 jobs, backed by our record £20 billion for R&D.

"Now it is vital we use our world leading position to prevent overdoses and save lives. This runs to the core of what our Science Superpower ambition is all about: tackling some of the biggest problems facing society so we can all live healthier, happier, safer lives."

Department of Health and Social Care
Department for Science, Innovation and Technology
George Freeman MP
Will Quince MP