DDN December 2023 DDN_Dec_2023 | Page 20

The sector needs to come together to address the coverage crisis for needle and syringe programmes , says Peter Furlong


For people who inject drugs , needle and syringe programmes ( NSP ) are a life-changing – and even lifesaving – intervention . Being able to access clean injecting equipment , advice , and harm reduction interventions massively reduces people ’ s vulnerability to hepatitis C , HIV , bacterial infections and a range of other harms .

While we know that NSPs are an effective way to reduce harm to people who inject drugs , we also know there are factors that are holding these programmes back from their full potential . In particular , we face a crisis in coverage that
is preventing people from accessing the support that they need to stay safe .
Here at Change Grow Live , we ’ ve been exploring new ways to break down these barriers and ensure that NSP is available to the people who need it , whenever they need it – and we want to bring voices from across the sector together to achieve this .
COVERAGE CRISIS In 2014 , the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence ( NICE ) retained its target of achieving 100 per cent NSP coverage ( see box , opposite page ) for the UK . Their evidence showed that even if we achieve 100 per cent coverage for 60 per cent of
the population , this would be enough to dramatically slow the spread of blood-borne-viruses and infections among people who inject .
Unfortunately , the UK is falling far behind these targets . There is currently no national approach to measuring the UK ’ s level of NSP coverage , but informed estimates place it at around just 30-35 per cent . The government ’ s most recent Shooting up report suggests that the number of people sharing and reusing injecting equipment is still high , with a third of people who inject drugs saying they don ’ t have enough clean equipment .
Every increase we can make to the UK ’ s coverage rate can reduce people ’ s risk
of harm and help to save lives – and Change Grow Live is working with the UK Health Security Agency ( UKHSA ) as part of a national working group to develop a standardised approach to measuring NSP coverage .
SAFER INJECTING There ’ s no single , catch-all solution to this issue , but there are ways we can begin to tackle the challenge of expanding our NSP coverage – and at Change Grow Live we ’ ve already begun to explore what those responses might look like .
One of the major challenges is the question of how we reach people who are not in regular contact with drug and alcohol services , or face
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