A consultant in substance misuse has shared life-saving advice to help reduce the risk of drug related deaths in Cumbria after recent warnings about a dangerously strong batch of heroin in Barrow.

Following growing concerns and alerts about certain batches of illicit drugs in the area Dr Patrick Horgan, consultant addiction psychiatrist at Unity Drug and Alcohol Recovery Service, has shared information about the key risks associated with illicit drugs, and provided guidance on how to reduce these risks for those who choose to take them.

Only last month Cumbria Constabulary warned the public about ‘a strong batch of heroin’ circulating in Barrow and urged drug users to ‘think carefully about their actions.’

“It has been our experience at Unity that people do not appreciate the risks with taking drugs,” said Dr Horgan, who is based in Cumbria.

“We have seen very many tragic deaths over the years, and we have seen the devastating effects of these deaths on the loved ones left behind.

“We know that people are less likely to die if they use drug and alcohol services or other forms of recovery networks.

“Taking drugs more safely can also save lives. We encourage all those who are taking drugs to think very carefully about how they can make things safer for themselves and reduce the risk of further tragedies.”

Unity provides a range of treatment options to help people gain recovery from their problems with drugs and alcohol.

Dr Horgan said the organisation has seen a number of alerts about the risks of illicit drug use in recent months and said drugs of ‘particular concern’ are heroin, diazepam and other strong painkillers, such as pregabalin.

“We believe that some people may have died due to taking these drugs and others have had life-threatening overdoses,” he said.

Other concerns include the availability of a wide variety of drugs- with users telling Unity they can obtain multiple types of drugs from the same source- and the varying strength of drugs from week to week.

"As a result the same “dose” could be one hundred times stronger than expected and thereby lead to a life-threatening overdose or death,” said Dr Horgan.

The doctor has issued six pieces of advice to drug users to reduce the risk of a drug related death.

1. “Never use drugs on your own. If something goes wrong, it is important there is someone who can get help for you.”

2. “Be extremely careful when using a new batch of drugs. Only use a tiny amount to check the strength of that drug.”

3. “Injecting drugs is the most dangerous way of taking drugs. Using drugs in this way increases the risk of a fatal overdose or developing debilitating health problems such as severe infections.”

4. “There are ways of taking drugs more safely even if injecting them. For example, there are places where sterile needles can be obtained such as Unity Drug and Alcohol Recovery Service.”

5. “Tolerance goes down significantly after a period of not using certain drugs.

"There are certain drugs that people become tolerant to when taking them over a period of time. 

"This means they can take large amounts of the drug yet experience the same effects as when they were taking a small amount.

"When people resume taking these kinds of drugs after a break, they think this tolerance persists.

"In fact, it is well recognised that drug taking after a period of abstinence can be extremely dangerous due to the changes in tolerance.”

6. “Carry naloxone. Naloxone is a life-saving medication that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose for a short period of time. The aim is to buy time for the person to access further expert medical treatment.

"If people are using opioids such as heroin, it is very important that they carry naloxone, which is provided by services such as Unity Drug and Alcohol Recovery Service.”

People can seek help from local services that can help people with harmful patterns of drug use, such as Unity Drug and Alcohol Recovery Service, The Well and Cumbria Alcohol and Drug Advisory Service (CADAS).

There are also national organisations that people can access in Cumbria such as SMART Recovery, Narcotics Anonymous (NA), and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

There are also online resources such as Breaking Free Online that people can use (code: Cumbria11).