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Substance use charity warns of threat caused by synthetic opioids

19 Jun 2024 4 minute read
Nitazenes. Image: Medpage

Leading substance use charity Barod is warning of the threat to public health in Wales posed by synthetic opioids nitazenes.

Nitazenes have entered the illegal drug market in Wales, significantly increasing the risk to life for those that unintentionally consume the substance, according to the charity.

In March 15 additional synthetic opioids, including 14 nitazenes, were designated as Class A drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, by the UK Government, following advice from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.

Following the change, anyone involved in production or supply of these drugs could face life in prison, an unlimited fine, or both.

Those caught in possession of them could also face up to seven years imprisonment, an unlimited fine or both.

Growing concern

Drug related deaths in Wales hit record levels three times in the last five years, recording its third highest drug-related death figures in 2022, with 40% of people who died from a drug-related overdose in 2021 in Wales, having had ‘no known contact’ or no contact with services 12 months prior to death.

Alcohol specific fatalities in Wales reached record levels for the third year running in 2022.

Barod Chief executive, Caroline Phipps, is set to hold a keynote address at the Pierhead, Cardiff Bay, today (19 June) to launch the charity’s Blueprint, featuring 10 urgent calls that they say will temper the deathly threat and level the playing field for people in Wales who use substances.

The packed out Pierhead will also hear from Barod staff and services users, as well as speakers including Minister for Mental Health and Early Years, Jayne Bryant MS; the Chair of the Senedd’s Substance-Use and Addiction Cross-Party Group Peredur Owen Griffiths MS; Professor Fiona Measham, Chair in Criminology, Sociology, Social Policy and Criminology at Liverpool University & founder of The Loop, as well as Professor Magdalena Harris – Professor of Inclusion Health Sociology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

The calls in full

  1. Welsh Government and key stakeholders to adopt a change in language to help reduce stigma among people who use substances.
  2. Concerned others to be a recognised group of people within their own right and adequately supported to help improve the health and wellbeing of themselves and their loved ones.
  3. An alcohol-related exclusion clause removed within the Equality Act 2010.
  4. To establish memorandums of understanding to enable the implementation of Enhanced Harm Reduction Centres in Wales.
  5. A Drug Overdose Good Samaritan Act to be enacted in Wales to help save lives.
  6. To be able to give out safer inhalation devices to people who use crack cocaine via needle and syringe programmes.
  7. Community drug checking services to be part and parcel of harm reduction interventions across Wales.
  8. All substance-use services in Wales to be underpinned by a trauma-informed approach.
  9. An updated substance-use delivery plan to help provide consistent standardisation of care across Wales and to equip the substance use field with the strategic foundations to mitigate growing concerns that are a threat to life.
  10. Young people with lived and living experience of substance use to be at the heart of the design and delivery of young person’s services

“Challenge thinking”

Ahead of the event, Caroline said: “At Barod, we believe we need to be brave and bold if we are to help reduce harm and save the lives of our citizens.

“We want Wales to be ready for what’s to come. After all, three people die each week due to synthetic opioid use across England and Wales. This is set to increase.

“A clear intervention, for example, would be to develop pioneering harm reduction spaces, where we challenge people’s thinking, address stigmatising attitudes and behaviours, while all the while using national and international evidence to inform our thinking.”

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