Brexit Blues

The impact of Brexit on our overdose epidemic

Cameron Scally
May 15 · 8 min read

The history of UK heroin and modern trade routes

The succinctly-titled European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, an EU body which monitors drugs and drug addiction, produced a study into the international heroin trade which features this map.

Polydrug use in heroin-using communities

Long before the very suggestion of Brexit, long-term heroin users have faced issues of low purity and high price as their tolerance climbed. It’s difficult to gauge exactly when the combination of heroin and drugs like diazepam became a consistent practice for many users, but it’s easy to see the logic. Medically speaking, we could consider this a form of adjunct therapy: using an additional drug to compound the effects of the primary treatment.

Legal highs and the Psychoactive Substances Act

Up until 2016, the UK experienced a strange drug renaissance in the form of the “legal high” boom. Clandestine chemists and legitimate researchers alike developed drugs faster than they could be banned and there was a free-for-all on the untested, unregulated, unbelievably cheap substances. All golden ages must end, however, and this one ended with the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016. All drugs are now banned by default, with specific exemptions made for alcohol, tobacco, coffee and chocolate.

Do you see where this is going yet?

Etizolam, like its socially-accepted cousins, is also highly resistant to overdose. In isolation, even doses of 5 and 10 times the recreational dose are unlikely to kill the user (via overdose, that is. Users in the midst of a benzodiazepine-induced blackout often behave erratically, which has resulted in numerous deaths). It is when these drugs are taken in combination with other depressant drugs like alcohol or, say, heroin, that the risk of fatal overdose becomes not just plausible, but likely.

These graphs show a startling 77% increase in drug deaths over recent years, and the changing shape of these trends. Looking at the dotted trendlines in the right-hand chart, we see that heroin has generally been implicated in 40–50% of drug-related deaths, but benzos (particularly “legal high” benzos) have skyrocketed in their contribution since their arrival in 2013, a trend which has only accelerated since the Psychoactive Substances Act.

Brexit

Whenever Brexit comes, whatever Brexit comes, the existing issues facing our heroin supply will be exacerbated while our largely domestic etizolam stocks will be unaffected. Quite aside from the sobering fact that our drug dealers are apparently better at stockpiling drugs than our government, this is how our opioid crisis will escalate to a disaster. Heroin users will be pushed to rely more heavily on benzos just to survive, even knowing that every dose is a dice-roll. As scarce treatment funding continues to dwindle, people who had previously been avoiding heroin may find themselves out of treatment and back in the market, finding it a much more dangerous place than it was when they left it. Death rates will continue to soar until the sheer lack of living users renders them unsustainable. Whoever is in charge when they finally start to fall will call it a victory.

Reformer

An online platform for thought-provoking, critical, and contextual articles on politics, society, and policy.

Cameron Scally

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Reformer

Reformer

An online platform for thought-provoking, critical, and contextual articles on politics, society, and policy.