Service Failures and Challenges in Responding to People Bereaved Through Drugs and Alcohol: An interprofessional analysis

Christine Valentine, Jennifer McKell, Ford Allison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (SciVal)


This article reports findings from the first two stages of a three-stage qualitative study which considered the role of services, including public, private and charitable organisations, in responding to the needs of adults bereaved following the drug and/or alcohol-related death of someone close. The study, the first of its kind to explore the landscape and role of services in substance use deaths, was conducted over two sites: south west England and Scotland. In stage 1 of the research, adopting both convenience and purposive sampling, data were collected via semi-structured interviews on experiences and support needs of bereaved individuals (n = 106). In stage 2, six focus groups were conducted with a purposive sample of practitioners (n = 40), including those working for the police, coroner’s service, procurator fiscal depute (Scotland), health service, funeral service, press, clergy, Public Health England, Drugs Policy Unit, bereavement counselling/support and alcohol and drug treatment services, to investigate how services may better respond to this bereavement. Thematic analysis from both data-sets identified two overarching themes. The first, focusing on practitioner responses, captures how these bereaved people may meet with inadequate, unkind, and discriminatory responses from services. Having to navigate unfamiliar, fragmented, and time-consuming procedures compounds the bereaved’s distress at an already difficult time, illustrated by a ‘mapping’ of relevant services. The second relates to challenges and opportunities for those responding. Service failures reflect practitioners’ poor understanding of both substance use bereavement and the range of other practitioners and services involved. Those bereaved are a poorly understood, neglected and stigmatised group of service users. There is a need for services to respond without judgement or insensitive language, and provide information about, communicate and work closely with, other services despite differences in working practices and cultures. These recommendations could positively affect bereaved peoples’ experiences, alleviating stress and overwhelm at a particularly vulnerable time.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)295-303
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Interprofessional Care
Issue number3
Early online date19 Dec 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Drug- and alcohol-related bereavement
  • focus groups
  • interprofessional working
  • qualitative interviews
  • stigma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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