Public Health England (PHE) has warned of a ‘sharp rise’ in the number of drug-related overdoses in several areas across England.

Early indications suggest that the overdoses could be causes by heroin mixed with a dangerous synthetic opioid, however PHE said further work was needed to establish if this was the case and investigations are ongoing.

To date, there have been 46 poisonings which have resulted in 16 deaths across south London, the south east, south west and east of England.

PHE has issued an alert to all public health and drug services, asking them to reach out to drug users outside of the drug treatment system.

The body has reminded drug service staff that there is ‘good evidence’ that naloxone prevents opioid overdose death.

It comes after the Government launched a consultation on making naloxone available in community pharmacies without a prescription.

Naloxone is currently only available in England on prescription or can be administered by anyone during an emergency. 

However, a consultation, launched (3 August), has proposed that naloxone can be supplied and administered without a prescription by a wider group of people across the UK of who regularly come into contact with drug users. 

Pharmacists have welcomed the possibility of offering the drug, however they have also called for more support to make the service feasible.

At the time, Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp), said it made ‘perfect sense’ to allow pharmacies to give out naloxone when appropriate.

Over 4,500 people (4,561) died after taking drugs in 2020 - almost 4% higher than 2019. It is also the highest number since records began in 1993.