We know exactly what works to prevent drug-related deaths – and yet the numbers are still rising
I was a drug worker in a London prison when I met Stuart, a guitar-playing Scot with a kind smile and a firm conviction that his life was over. When I met him he was dependent on heroin. His family had disowned him and he was in prison. He was scared, exhausted, and desperate. Over the next few months, with support, he started to make progress. We formed a strong bond. He got in touch with his mum, and opened up to me about the things he was running away from. I offered a listening ear, a roadmap, and no judgment. I was only three years into a career as a drug worker but I was already unshockable. I showed him I was on his side and he started to work to get better. He was three months clear of drugs and alcohol when he was released from prison. I was really hopeful for him.
A few days after Stuart got out, I was told by a colleague he had died of an overdose. I was stunned. Mostly I remember feeling guilty, wondering if I had done or said the wrong thing. Had I talked to him about the risk of overdosing? I knew I had, but it didn’t help to know that then. I felt like I had let him down, that I didn’t do enough. Years later I still think about him. As is often the case with drug deaths, it’s easy to tell how he died but a lot harder to say why. Looking back, I can see he didn’t have access to the some of the support we know works today – the odds were against him from the day he got out.