Drug Policy ‘Failing’ On Viruses

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.”