Helen Deeson – Humankind

Drug related deaths in England and Wales up 60% in the last 10 years

Helen Deeson

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) today released statistics showing the number of drug related deaths in the England and Wales in 2020. The headline information is:   

  • In 2020, 4,561 deaths related to drug poisoning were registered in England and Wales (equivalent to a rate of 79.5 deaths per million people); this is 3.8% higher than the number of deaths registered in 2019 (4,393 deaths; 76.7 deaths per million) and 60% worse than it was 10 years ago.  
  • Rates of drug-misuse death continue to be elevated among those born in the 1970s, with the highest rate in those aged 45 to 49 years. 
  • The North East continues to have the highest rate of deaths relating to drug misuse (104.6 deaths per million people); London had the lowest rate (33.1 deaths per million people). 
  • Approximately half of all drug poisoning deaths registered in 2020 involved an opiate (49.6%; 2,263 deaths); 777 deaths involved cocaine, which is 9.7% more than 2019, and more than five times the amount recorded a decade ago (144 deaths in 2010). 

Paul Townsley, CEO for Humankind, said: “It’s hard to imagine that the number 4,561 represents real people who have died over this last year – and each of those who have died have left behind family and friends who cared for them.  That is the equivalent of twelve people dying every day. Many of these deaths are preventable. 

“Services have done their best, against a backdrop of funding cuts and restrictions due to the Covid pandemic. Staff have worked tirelessly, and we are certain many lives have been saved as a result, but we must all do more to prioritise prevention of drug related deaths in the coming months and years. At Humankind we review all deaths and make changes and improvements to delivery where they are needed. 

“The Government commissioned an important report from Dame Carol Black which was published recently – now more than ever it is imperative that it implements the solid recommendations outlined in the report, to reverse this deeply sad trend and improve the lives of those in some of our most deprived communities. We hope that the levelling up policies and investment are delivered upon and the government works with experts to spend the money where it is needed. 

“Every death is preventable and we believe there must be a step change to better support vulnerable people.  Our thoughts go out to everyone that has lost someone in these terrible circumstances – if you need support for alcohol or drugs, please do reach out. We’ll be there to help.” 

Humankind welcomes the second part of the Dame Carol Black review

Helen Deeson

8 July saw the release of what will go down in our sector as a seminal report by Dame Carol Black. The report is a strong, evidence based, compassionate and well considered series of recommendations about how government and services can significantly improve treatment for those with drug problems in this country.  

The report’s findings are a testament to the work of those at the front line and those with lived experience who have contributed to it. People with alcohol or drug issues have been some of the worst affected by years of government austerity. The report makes clear that significant and sustained cuts to specialist treatment services over a number of years have left their mark.  

Paul Townsley, CEO of Humankind said:  

“Now, more than ever there is a once in a generation opportunity to change the focus of drug treatment and make bold changes that will improve people’s lives. We fully support the recommendations in the Dame Carol Black review and will work with others across the sector to enable and facilitate the changes. 

“The recommendation to have a greater focus on trauma informed care, mental health and more support for recovery communities is also very welcomed. 

“To achieve this, the recommended additional funding is particularly welcomed alongside the strengthened national leadership and partnership working at the centre of government to drive change.”  

Humankind responded to the call for evidence as part of the information-gathering phase of part 2 of the review with our Medical Director, Dr Roya Vaziri, and our CEO, Paul Townsley key contributors. We were asked to share evidence, insights and experiences of the challenges involved in harm reduction, drug prevention, treatment and recovery and it feels like our services and those who use them were genuinely heard. 

We now urge government to fully embrace the changes laid out in this report, and include a significant raft of multi-departmental changes across government to prioritise some of the most vulnerable people in society and develop a multi-year funding settlement to significantly increase both the quality and the quantity of treatment across England. Nothing less is required to reverse the trends of increased drug and alcohol related deaths, serious reductions in life expectancy in some of the most deprived communities we serve and an improvement in support for the workforce who support them. 

Humankind awarded contract to deliver the new drug and alcohol treatment services in Cumbria

Helen Deeson

We are thrilled to announce that we have been successful in our bid for the North and South Cumbria Addictions service, commissioned by Cumbria County Council.  

The new contract starts on 1st October 2021 and will be run in partnership with The Well Communities, a local Lived Experience Recovery Organisation (LERO), where support is provided by staff and volunteers with lived experience of drug and alcohol use.  

Colin Cox, Cumbria County Council, Director of Public Health for Inclusion, said: “The Council and our partners work hard so people in Cumbria are healthy and safe. The Cumbria Addictions Service has a significant part to play in supporting us achieve this outcome by reducing the harm alcohol, drugs and other addictions have on our residents, families and communities. The Council is looking forward to working with Humankind and The Well to further improve the lives of residents by compassionately and professionally treating, supporting and inspiring people to improve their and others health and wellbeing.” 

Ted Haughey, Executive Director of Operations, said: “We are delighted to expand our services in the North West and partner with The Well Communities. We have many years of experience providing clinical drug and alcohol treatment services across the country and are looking forward to bringing this expertise to the area.  

“I am pleased that Cumbria County Council have protected investment in this contract meaning our new service will have the same level of funding as before, but excitingly we will also be able to offer additional resource from new Government funding too. The team and I are looking forward to working with communities across the county and supporting people to recover from drug and alcohol use.” 

Dave Higham, Founder and CEO of The Well Communities, said: “I am so thrilled to be working in partnership with Humankind to provide services across Cumbria. I believe together we can deliver an amazing service that will bring real change to people’s lives. We want to champion LEROs across the UK and showcase the amazing work that we can achieve in enabling people to break free from crime and addiction. We believe, together we can achieve anything, so working in partnership with all stakeholders is the key ingredient to a successful service.” 

Virgin volunteers help out at The Greens

Helen Deeson

Virgin volunteers in the Greens garden

The Greens, a Sheffield home providing accommodation for people who are in recovery from drug or alcohol use, received some handy horticultural help from volunteers working for Virgin Media.

The centre has a thriving mindfulness garden, so when the offer of help came from Andrew Darling at Virgin Media, the centre lost no time in planning for the days help.

Andrew said “The Centre is very close to my heart as my brother is there and to be honest has saved his life, I wanted to give something back to the site which has given me my brother back.

“We were welcomed with open arms and made to feel so special on the day, we had Lee and Craig directing us what needed doing and all the residents were so friendly and helped in a way we never imagined. This is the 4th day we have done over the years and all my staff are asking to go back again as this is such a great cause.

“We were presented at the end of the day with a plaque thanking us and this is going to become our employee of the month award, the residents had made this in their own time and we were truly blown away.

“I want to thank you all not only for making us feel so special but for the great work we can all see you are doing, the Sheffield residents are a credit to you all.”

Louise Morley, Project Manager at The Greens said “We were taken aback by the generous offer from Andrew and his team. Our residents have made amazing strides to get the garden into shape, so the offer of significant support was really welcome.

“The volunteers really got stuck in, helping to move heavy items, paint a shed and stain the decking. It’s made a massive difference and has really helped spruce up the mindfulness garden.”

The Greens continues to develop its recovery garden, and is pleased to welcome more volunteers in the future. If you can offer support in any form, whether financial, materials or expertise, please contact Louise Morley at thegreens@humankindcharity.org.uk.

New Restart Employability Programme

Helen Deeson

We are very pleased to announce that Humankind were successful in securing a contract to deliver the Restart Employability Programme across the Borough of Sefton, on behalf of the Department of Work and Pensions. We are sub-contracted by G4S who have been appointed as the prime provider for the North West region.

The Government backed programme is aimed at individuals who have been out of work for at least 12 months and who need support to help move back into employment. Particularly those who have been affected by the pandemic.

The Humankind Restart Sefton service will work with participants and employers to break down employment barriers. We will provide tailored support to each participant to help them improve their employability chances through skills identification, job-matching, CV / application form support, mock interviews and employment placements.

Steve James, Director of Services, said: “We are delighted to be expanding our employment services to the North West and working with the local community. We know the impact that the pandemic has had on jobs across the country and are looking forward to using our expertise to deliver this new service and support people into work in Sefton.”

We will be opening two new delivery sites across the borough of Sefton in the Bootle and Southport areas as well as providing outreach at sites in the community. The first referrals into the service will be received in July 2021.

If you are either seeking job opportunities or an employer seeking candidates, please head to our Sefton Restart Employability Programme service page to find out more.

We are currently inviting applications for a number of exciting new roles, see our careers site for details.

Survey of people who use our services: the results

Helen Deeson

We recently asked people that use our services a series of questions to get their views so that we can make better plans for the future. 

The survey ran over two weeks in May and we received over 2000 responses from across the country. Here are some of the headline results: 

Liane Taylor, Director of Integration, Housing and Strategy, Employment & Social Enterprise, said: “Understanding the experience of people that use our services and how we can make improvements is really important to us. With so much change happening in the world around us, this has never been more critical. 

“We are extremely pleased with the fantastic response that we have received and the positive feedback that people gave us. These results will feed into our new strategy about working together with people that use our services and they are involved in future planning” 

With the service delivery changes that had to take place during the pandemic we also wanted to know more about how people would like to use our services in future and what digital barriers they were facing. People reported that they really valued the online support that was provided during the pandemic but also really value face to face support. Barriers that were most commonly reported were not having access to a suitable device and lack of data.  

We will be using these results to inform our future practice and will share more details of changes that we will be making soon.  

The Misuse of Drugs Act: What will happen if we wait another 50 years?

Helen Deeson

Paul Townsley, our CEO, reflects on how we will look back on our drug laws in another 50 years.


I was two years old when the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA) became law. It has overshadowed my whole working life. Working in treatment services, it can be easy to disconnect from the law and its impact on the people who use our services – and indeed the way we have to work as a result. We react to the effects of the law, and it’s intended and unintended consequences but without pause to consider the bigger ramifications or constraints that treatment is under.

Many of the people who use our services use a mixture of legal prescribed and non-prescribed drugs and illicit drugs which are made by the pharmaceutical industry, by organised crime or by the alcohol industry with tax revenue going to HMRC. This complex interplay between a broad range of psychoactive substances is not reflected in the act in a meaningful, rational and logical way. The criminalisation and stigma towards people who use a range of drugs creates a hypocritical approach from the get-go.

Throwing out the act in its entirety isn’t practical though. At this point, it seems to me that there isn’t the political will or the public appetite for that to be our initial goal. From my perspective, the next best thing would be for the MDA to be updated to be fair, evidence based and reflect the needs of the UK in 2021 not 1971. Throwing out the act without a developed alternative position may create unintended consequences. But it is important to agree in law and practice that the criminalisation of people using ‘illegal’ drugs is a flawed model that ultimately punishes rather than protects and helps people.

One way to ponder the validity of the MDA is to wonder, what would things be like in 2071? We would be reflecting on 100 years of the act and the ‘war on drugs’. What might that world look like and what would be better?

To state the blindingly obvious, to be politically acceptable we must create the pressure, conditions, and pathway to change and move from binary discussions of ‘for and against’ to what’s in the best interests of everyone in society in the long term. We need to be pragmatic about what can be achieved, but also recognise that things are changing and we need to push that door open more widely. The negative impacts of the increasing harms caused by alcohol, the increase in drug related deaths and waste of resources sentencing people and their families to a life within the criminal justice system all demand urgent change.

We have a window of opportunity to take some radical steps forwards; with a new government committed to invest and the impending release of the 2nd part of the Dame Carol Black Review. We need to take a public health approach to treatment and rehabilitate people caught up in the criminal justice system. Instead of referring people on in criminal justice settings we need to embed public health interventions in these settings. For people caught up in using, dealing and committing crime linked to substance use we need to make sure they are rehabilitated and get treatment first and foremost – not punishment.

We need to improve and protect the skills of staff working in both a specialist and non-specialist setting so that people get the help they need when they are either motivated to change or need basic health and social care interventions. Senior figures in both Police and Probation services are stepping up, and saying let’s do something different as they can see that the MDA does nothing, save from reinforce the revolving door of custody-release-custody. As a treatment provider we need to make sure our voices are as loud as others and improve treatment outcomes as we apply the evidence base of what works.

New investment needs to rebuild what has been lost over the recent years of cuts and look to the future to make sure we work with as many people as we can with the resources available.

We have a once in a generation opportunity to go with the evidence base rather than what’s politically tolerable in the short term. Early intervention potentially breaks the cycle of trauma and deprivation altogether.

My hope is that in 2071 people can look back at a well-intended but flawed approach to drug and alcohol use and the moment came when we as a country bravely changed course and moved towards decriminalisation and a public health approach.

You can also read Pauls article in the latest Drink and Drug News.

Latest ONS figures show alcohol related deaths remain high

Helen Deeson

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) today released statistics showing the number of alcohol specific deaths in the UK in 2019. The headline information is:

  • In 2019, there were 7,565 deaths registered in the UK that related to alcohol-specific causes, the second highest since the data time series began in 2001.
  • Alcohol-specific death rates were highest among those aged 55 to 59 years and 60 to 64 years for both men and women in 2019.
  • Alcoholic liver disease was the cause of 77.2% of deaths.
  • Male alcohol specific deaths have risen by 22% in England since 2001 while female alcohol specific deaths have risen by 25% in the same time period.
  • For the sixth consecutive year, the North East had the highest alcohol specific death rate of any English region.

Paul Townsley, Chief Executive at Humankind, said:

“Sadly, alcohol deaths remain very high, having a devastating impact on families, friends, society and the NHS.

“These latest figures don’t reflect the increase in alcohol use that we will have seen during lockdown due to loneliness and isolation. Our online alcohol coaching service, DrinkCoach has seen a 30% increase in use last year and we are expecting the trend to continue this year.

“Recent announcements about increased investment must go towards treatment for those most in need of it. Areas with higher levels of health inequality need a higher per head spend for those needing treatment in order to ‘level up’ access to good quality services nationally. In addition, we hope that there will be further increased investment in treatment services to respond to this significant increase in death rates.

“The fact that alcohol and drug related death figures are highest in the North East, one of the most deprived areas in England, is not surprising. The use of alcohol is often related to people’s circumstances and interlinked with access to secure housing, employment and support for mental health.

“Whist these figures present a bleak picture, it is important to remember that there are services available which can help people move towards recovery – if you need support for alcohol or drugs, please do reach out. We’ll be there to help.”

Humankind warmly welcomes additional funding for drug and alcohol treatment

Helen Deeson

We welcome the Government announcement on investment of an additional £80million into drug and alcohol treatment in the coming year.

This much needed money will provide support to people that have often suffered significant trauma in their lives and will help countless people make positive changes and move towards recovery.

Paul Townsley, CEO of Humankind said,

“This funding comes at a critical time for everyone who needs our services and we would like to thank Dame Carol Black for the influence, that I am in no doubt her review had on the Government’s decision.

“With nearly 4,500 preventable drug related deaths last year I am confident that the sector will use this money wisely to reduce these unnecessary deaths and will go some way in levelling up our communities and reduce health inequalities.

The pandemic has had a huge impact on some of the most vulnerable in society and this will help us to support those who need it in the coming months.”

New pods provide extra accommodation at Humankind homeless service

Helen Deeson

The pods, at No Second Night Out in Bradford, are providing emergency housing for those with nowhere else to sleep in the run up to Christmas

The service also increased its occupancy inside their Discovery House building, allowing the service to house more clients who are street homeless or at risk of rough sleeping.

Area Manager for Humankind, Clare Singlewood said: “Like many other providers we found ourselves unable to offer our usual, cold weather provision this winter due to the ongoing pandemic so we are really excited to have the opportunity to house and manage these emergency pods.”

Thomas Mann, Project Manager for Humankind Bradford, added: “I am delighted we can offer emergency pods during the winter months. The service continues to develop its support package and provide a solution-focused response to our client’s needs. We are always look for innovative and creative ways to support the Cold Weather Provision and the ‘Everyone In’ initiative across Bradford.”

The emergency pods, built by Amazing Grace spaces, contain a bed, chemical toilet, smoke alarm, phone charger, light, key-coded door and are powered by solar panels. Humankind has worked with Hope Housing, Inn Churches and the Homeless Outreach Programme in Bradford to provide the pods.

Juli Thompson, Chief Executive for Inn Churches, stated: “We are under no illusion that this is only a short-term solution to homelessness. But to someone who finds themselves suddenly on the streets it could help avert their crisis. This year at Inn Churches, due to Covid-19, we have been advised not to operate our winter shelters. After 11 winters of running the shelters, we felt that purchasing the pods allowed us to still support people who found themselves at the mercy of the winter weather.”

No Second Night Out has also just received a contract extension, from Bradford Council, so it can continue to deliver its service until October 2021.