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UK and Wales Fail on HCV Policy
  "Drug policy 'failing' on viruses"
"Turning Point says half of drug users share needles"
The Welsh Assembly Government's drug policy is failing to tackle the rise in blood borne virus infections, a social care charity has claimed.
Turning Point wants the assembly government to do more to stop the spread of diseases like hepatitis C.
The group's research found an increase in infections had come from changing patterns of injecting drug use.
The Welsh Assembly Government said it was in the process of compiling an action plan to address issues.
Turning Point said at least 10,000 drug users in Wales have hepatitis C, which can cause serious liver damage.
The charity said that 21 years after needle exchanges were introduced, the government needs to take a fresh look at public health and its drugs policy.
Steve Worobec from the organisation said: "There are not enough places for people in Wales to get sterile supplies for things like water, spoons and filters.
"Even 10 years ago, there was a lot more knowledge about how to contract blood borne viruses.
"People remember the HIV messages of the 1980s but now think it's off the agenda.
"They therefore assume that sharing equipment is OK again, and there is a new generation of drug users who need educating in how to use drugs safely."
Turning Point also called for Hepatitis C and HIV testing and treatments to be made more accessible for injecting drug users.
The hepatitis C virus can lead to complications including cirrhosis of the liver.
Symptoms include fatigue, weight loss, nausea, flu-like symptoms, problems concentrating, abdominal pain and jaundice.
Of the drug users who have Hepatitis C, less than a quarter have accessed treatment on the NHS, Turning Point claims.
A Welsh Assembly Government spokesperson said it was "aware of the potential impact of blood borne viruses on intravenous drug users".
"The Welsh Assembly Government has commissioned from the National Public Health Service a number of important studies to assess the impact," he said.
"The National Public Health Service is compiling an action plan addressing the issues identified. We would anticipate receiving the action plan in the near future."
"At the sharp end": Injection of urgency needed on drug-related viruses
"I got Hep C because all of us were using the same water containers. I was gobsmacked. You can get cancer of the liver." Intravenous drug user (audio available)
The government's drug policy in England and Wales is failing to tackle the rise in Hepatitis and HIV infections. This is a major public health issue as fifty per cent of injecting drug users have Hepatitis C, and one in fifty have HIV.
New research from social care organisation, Turning Point, finds that rates of blood borne viruses are increasing because of changing patterns of injecting drug use. Turning Point claims that, twenty-one years after needle exchanges were introduced, the government now needs to take a fresh look at public health in this area of its drugs policy.
Users are highly vulnerable to contracting these life-threatening viruses because they are sharing needles and because they do not always have all the right kit, like clean spoons, water and citric acid (6).
"At the Sharp End" campaign research shows:
- Half of drug users share needles or other injecting equipment.
- Nearly one in five drug users surveyed were speedballing (injecting a combination of heroin and crack) which is much more dangerous than heroin alone and carries higher risks of catching infections.
- Drug users are taking more risks with their health by injecting into the neck and groin.
- Many people are unable to get treatment for their condition. Of those drug users who have Hepatitis C, less than a quarter have accessed treatment.
- A liver transplant for those with Hepatitis C costs the NHS 18,000 whereas a sterile cup costs 10p.
Turning Point Chief Executive, Lord Victor Adebowale, says: "The much-heralded needle exchange programme of the 1980's has hit a 21st century stumbling block. Twenty years ago, the government led the way in offering needle exchanges, which meant a much lower level of HIV than other countries. The recent emphasis has been on reducing drug-related crime. The government needs to tackle the rise in blood borne virus infections, by making public health the key focus of the next drugs strategy."
Today Turning Point calls on the government to address these twenty-first century issues by linking drugs policy to public health. The social care organisation is also calling for Hepatitis C and HIV testing and treatments to be made more accessible for injecting drug users.
For further information please contact Steve Palmer in the Turning Point press office on 020 7481 7639 or 07786 938 601.
Drug users miss out on hepatitis treatment
Posted: 09 December 2005
Maria Ahmed
Drug users are not getting treatment for the Hepatitus C virus because they are on "the bottom of the list" of health professional's priorities, a leading expert said this week.
Professor Graham Foster, professor of hepatology at Queen Mary's University College, told the parliamentary group on drug misuse that the virus was stigmatised as the "druggie's disease."
He warned that such attitudes would have "severe repercussions" for the next decade if people failed to get treatment.
There are currently around 300,000 cases of the virus, but Foster called this a "conservative" estimate.
He said: "If we continue at this rate, we will see a dramatic rise in end-stage liver disease."
Foster said clearer guidance was needed from the department of health to make Hepatitus C treatment a priority.
Campaigners also expressed concern over the lack of treatment for the virus in prisons, and group chair Brian Iddon MP said he would raise the issue with health minister Caroline Flint and home office minister Fiona McTaggart.
UK drugs policy not working, says report
18 April 2007
Maria Ahmed
Government drug policy is having a "minimal impact" on the use of illegal drugs in the UK, a report says today.
The report by the UK Drugs Policy Commission, a new independent organisation, says that education and prevention schemes for young people are among those that have failed to stem the rise in drug use over the last decade.
It finds there is "little consistent or reliable evidence" to show that drug education and prevention schemes have brought about less drug use or to show the effectiveness of enforcement measures such as lengthy prison sentences for drug users.
Despite increased investment in treatment, the majority of government spending on responding to illegal drugs is still devoted to enforcing drug laws, while reporting government expenditure on drugs policy is "difficult" because of a lack of transparency, according to the report.
The UK has the second-highest rate of drug-related deaths in Europe, with 1,644 deaths occurring in 2005, according to figures cited in the report. It also has double the rates of dependent or problematic drug use compared other European countries.
The UK Drugs Policy Commission, launched today, said it aimed to provide an "objective" analysis of issues related to drug policy in the UK.
Chair Dame Ruth Runciman said: "The Commission does not start from the position that all UK drug policy has failed, but rather that we do not know enough about which elements of policy work, why they work and where they work well."
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