Leading academics are urging the Government not to leave vulnerable drug-dependent individuals behind, in the fight against COVID-19.

Professor Ian Hamilton from the University of York has criticised Politicians for not ploughing sufficient resources and attention into what he calls ‘the other epidemic’, with the same determination and commitment it has turned its attention toward tackling coronavirus.

Warning of a potential spike in the number of drug-related deaths, Professor Hamilton says that the virus has brought together ‘all the social ingredients guaranteed to exacerbate current high-record numbers of drug-related deaths, including isolation, mass unemployment, low income and stolen hope’.  

Hamilton says drug-addicted individuals are seen as deviant and suffer from a political ambivalence that sees moral judgement forming Government policy, instead of scientifically backed data and expert advise on how to tackle the UK’s drug crisis.  

The closure of vital drug support services due to lockdown, and its impact on illegal drug supplies – including availability and purity – could cause a big increase in the number of drug-dependents self-medicating and overdosing, placing an even bigger burden on the NHS.

Writing in the Pharmaceutical Journal, Amira Guirguis, senior lecturer and researcher at Swansea University, agrees that people who use drugs are not only at a social disadvantage, but they face a bigger risk of becoming significantly ill with the virus itself.

She says that drug use compromises an individual’s health, so people who use illicit drugs are particularly vulnerable to infection and the worse health implications of COVID-19. Guirguis also says that as well as the physical health risks, disruption to vital drug services and contact with support networks could have a stark impact on a person’s mental wellbeing, increasing the need for drug taking.

Whilst it remains a priority to take care of those in vulnerable groups – people aged 70 years and over and those with chronic health problems – it is clear that protecting people who use drugs is a vital part of the wider effort to safeguard society as a whole.

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