Drug Related Harms

September 2021


The RCGP statement on drug related harms was passed at RCGP Council in September 2021 in response to the record number of drug-related deaths across the United Kingdom.

The statement explores the role of GPs in supporting and caring for patients who are affected by problem drug use and puts forward recommendations for policymakers across the United Kingdom.


The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) view the record number of drug-related deaths recorded in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland as a public health emergency. We believe that such a human cost warrants fresh approaches to the management of problem drug use be considered across the UK. We call for an evidence-based approach to exploring possible solutions to this crisis.

RCGP recognise that general practitioners are uniquely and expertly trained to manage the holistic care of people. People who are affected by problem drug use, frequently suffer from chronic health issues. We recognise the role of general practice in providing holistic care to these patients, often over many years.

Most do not have the capacity to obtain the specialist skills, and knowledge to replace the input of specialist drugs services. We recognise these are the most appropriate providers of complex treatments. GPs recognise the importance of rapid access to specialist services in meeting the needs of patients, who are affected by problem drug use.

To ensure that the healthcare needs of these patients are met. Those GPs and their teams who feel that they require enhanced educational resources should have access to them. Funded protected time should be available to enable them to engage in learning and development activities. We are concerned about the negative impact of the fragmentation of services for patients who require specialist care and call for sufficient funding for these much-needed specialist services.

We are also concerned about the stigma experienced by those who use drugs and view this as a barrier to accessing the highest standard of care that needs to be addressed.

Drugs policy is a reserved matter and tackling the root causes of the crisis requires collaboration from governments across the UK. RCGP urge policymakers from across the devolved administrations and within UK Parliament to work together to consider solutions for reducing drug-related harms.
We also recognise the need for cross-governmental solutions to this crisis. We would encourage respective governments to engage in such working.

RCGP is supportive of all UK nations having the opportunity to consider, trial and evaluate alternative evidence-based interventions to tackling drug-related harms. This approach may generate information and evidence that it has not previously been possible to collect.

RCGP is committed to constructively working with stakeholders to ensure that general practice can play its part in mitigating the drug deaths crisis and ensure that those affected by problem drug use receive the highest standard of care and reduce the level of stigma experienced by this vulnerable group.