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In a letter to The Times on 28th March, 22 leading academics and practitioners called for government action to protect and enhance key services under COVID-19.

The letter, from 13 Professors of Epidemiology, Public Health, Drug Policy and Criminology as well as drug treatment service providers, doctors and drug policy groups, states that the government cannot get COVID-19 under control without increasing support for people dependent on drugs.

This group of perhaps 320,000 people across the UK are particularly vulnerable to infection, and suffering the worst impacts of the disease because of underlying health problems. Therefore, the experts warn that if they are not ‘shielded’ to prevent infection, and other harms from drug use, there will be a major increase in pressure on the NHS and demand for intensive care beds.

The letter pleads for more funding for treatment, saying that the provision of sterile needles, opioid substitution treatment and the anti-overdose drug naloxone must be increased. Accommodation for the homeless should include provision for those who are not able to stop using drugs immediately. People at risk of arrest should instead be diverted towards services. As the virus is taking hold in prisons, those incarcerated for non-violent offences should be considered for early release.

Risks of drug substituting

According to Ian Hamilton, Senior Lecturer in Addiction and Mental Health at the University of York, Public Health England has already asked for information about illegal drug shortages and how people are responding, such as by substituting. He warns that some people will seek out alternatives when their drug of choice becomes harder to source, which raises the risk of harm due to unfamiliarity and their inexperience of safe dosing.

“As with coronavirus, we have options to mitigate the fallout from this: we could provide drug testing, as already happens at some music festivals. This way people would know what is in their drug and, crucially, how strong it is”, says Mr Hamilton. “Equally, now seems an opportune moment to introduce safer injecting facilities so that people have safe and clean environments where they can consume drugs. This could also help to save lives as anyone accidentally overdosing could be immediately revived.” For information on any of AlphaBiolabs’ drug testing solutions, please call 0333 600 1300 or email us at info@alphabiolabs.com