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News in brief: Minister vows to do more to tackle substance abuse as game changing treatment helps reduce drug deaths 

01 Sep 2021 7 minute read
Photo Reno Beranger from Pixabay

Minister for Mental Health Lynne Neagle says more must be done to tackle substance abuse in Wales, despite the number of deaths due to the misuse of drugs falling to the lowest levels since 2014, according to figures released by the Office for National Statistics.

According to the ONS, there were 224 drug poisoning deaths in Wales last year and of these 149 involved illegal drugs.

There were 16 fewer (6.9%) drug poisoning deaths than 2019 and also 16 fewer (9.7%) drug misuse deaths, representing the lowest number of drug misuse deaths reported since 2014.


“Whilst every death is a tragedy, we are heartened and encouraged to see the lowest rate of drug misuse deaths recorded in Wales since 2014,’ Ms Neagle said.

“Despite this promising progress, we understand that more still needs to be done to ensure those struggling with substance misuse issues, addiction and homelessness have access to the necessary support services when they need it the most.

“We need to do more to tackle the stigma so many people face in relation to substance misuse and recognise for many individuals substance misuse is as a result of significant trauma not a lifestyle choice.

The Welsh Government invests £55m annually into its substance misuse programme and in the last year a further £4.8m was also made available to support the response to Covid-19.

It has additionally committed £3.3m to speed up the roll out of the Buvidal treatment program which is described a “game changer” in the treatment of drug users.

Buvidal offers ex-heroin users the chance to break destructive habits and interactions, as well as managing their addiction and also blocks heroin from having any effect on the user.

Once injected, the drug releases slowly over several weeks, in contrast to methadone programs, which requires users to attend a pharmacy daily for their prescription.

“The availability of Buvidal has been a game changer for many of our service users living with opioid dependence. There have been so many remarkable recovery stories that it is almost the new normal,’ Professor Jan Melichar, from Cardiff and Vale University Health Board, said.

“However, many still have numerous issues which we continue to now successfully work on with them. We are proud to have played our part in leading the way with the roll out of the drug. We are already seeing the positive impacts it can have on the lives of service users, as well as their wider support networks.”  

Test swabs. Photo by Vesna Harni from Pixabay

Two areas in Wales among worst affected in the UK as surge in cases continues

Public Health Wales has confirmed five new deaths due to Covid-19 and 3,328 new cases of the virus in today’s report.

Three of the newly reported deaths are in the Aneurin Bevan health board area and Betsi Cadwaladr and Swansea Bay each recorded one further death.

Up to 27 August, 12,884 people have tested positive for the virus across the country, with four of 22 local authorities registering weekly case rates of more than 500 per 100,000 people.

Swansea has the highest rate in Wales at 653.9, the 13th highest in the UK, and recorded 398 new cases in the last 24 hours.  Neath Port Talbot’s weekly rate at 585 is also among the twenty highest across the UK.

Denbighshire (526.7) and Merthyr (512.2) make up the four hardest hit areas in Wales.

The national case rate has risen to 408.6 from 386.6 since yesterday’s report and the positivity rate has increased from 18.7% yesterday to 19.1%

Meanwhile, the Office for National Statistics has recorded a small fall in the number of deaths due to Covid in Wales in its latest study.

Over the seven days ending 20 August, 18 deaths mentioned Covid-19 in the death certificate, one fewer death than the previous week, accounting for 3.0% of all deaths registered.

There were 645 deaths from all causes registered in the latest week covered by the study, 47 more than the previous week and 34 more deaths than the five-year average.

The total number of deaths in Wales since the start of the pandemic in March 2020 is 53,205 and of these, 8,002 deaths (15.0%) mentioned Covid on the death certificate,5,290 deaths above the five-year average.

According to Public Health Wales, 5,677 people have died due to Covid since March last year.

The daily figures released by Public Health Wales include the deaths of a hospital patients or care home resident where Covid-19 has been confirmed with a positive laboratory test and the clinician suspects this was a causative factor in the death.

Deaths counted by the ONS are when Covid-19 is mentioned by doctors on the death certificate and which occur in all settings – including hospitals, care homes, hospices and people’s homes.

Siân Gwenllian AM. Llun gan y Cynulliad (CC 2.0).

MS backs call to tackle abuse faced by shopworkers

Plaid Cymru MS Siân Gwenllian MS has backed calls for more protection for shopworkers following the release of figures revealing that over 90% of retail staff have been assaulted, threatened or abused in the last 12 month.

The annual survey of retail staff conducted by USDAW, the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, revealed 92% of respondents experienced verbal abuse, with 70% having been threatened by a customer. The study also revealed that 14% were physically assaulted.

The figures were released as part of the union’s Freedom From Fear Campaign, which urges workers to ‘report it to sort it’, after it emerged that one in five victims of abuse confirmed they didn’t report it to their employer.

“Shopworkers are key workers doing their best under extremely difficult circumstances. They have kept us all going during what has been a demanding year for the industry,” Ms Gwenllian, the MS for Arfon said:

“They were, for a lot of people, the only form of communication during the pandemic.

“I would like to thank USDAW for sharing their findings, especially the first-hand testimonies of shop workers.

“From smoke grenades being set off in store, workers being threatened with rape, shoplifters threatening colleagues with bottles of alcohol, and racist abuse being hurled at workers, the findings made for difficult reading.

“I’d like to reiterate USDAW’s call for workers to ‘report it to sort it’, but ultimately that responsibility shouldn’t fall on the shoulders of shop workers. Customers should be kind and patient and be respectful at all times.”

Photo by Elien Dumon on Unsplash

Development bank quadruples investment in care home sector

Older people in care homes in Wales will benefit from new facilities and improved services following a £4 million investment in the first six month of 2021 by the Development Bank of Wales.

Seven businesses providing residential care have benefitted from the loans so far this year which are over four times the amount invested in the sector over the same period in 2020.

“Reports estimate that 113% more people will be over the age of 85 by 2035, fuelling demand for an increase in the quantity and quality of care including specialist EMI facilities,’ Nick Stork, Fund Manager for the Development Bank of Wales said.

‘That’s why a modern health and care system needs to be designed and delivered around the needs and preferences of individuals, with a greater emphasis on keeping people healthy and well. We should all be able to age well and live in age-friendly communities where older people feel valued, included and respected.

“Our support for the care sector includes loan and equity to fund business growth and acquisitions. This year we are definitely seeing an uplift in demand for finance in this sector with an increasing number of care providers needing our support to step-up their investment in staff, creating jobs and working to address the skills gap by spending more on the recruitment, development and retention of staff.”

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