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Harm reduction overview for the United Kingdom

Map of The United Kingdom

1. National context

Reduction of drug-related deaths, infectious diseases, co-morbidity and other health consequences are key policy issues within the United Kingdom’s drug strategies. Interventions include information campaigns on the risks associated with drug use, as well as information on safer injecting and safer sex, provision of free needles and syringes, promotion of safe disposal of used equipment, infection counselling, support and testing, vaccinations against hepatitis B virus, referrals to drug treatment, antiretroviral treatment for HIV and HCV, provision of take-home naloxone and training of drug users and their family members on its application.

In 2009–10 the United Kingdom experienced an anthrax outbreak among heroin users. As a result, a dedicated web page providing epidemiological updates and guidance for professionals (clinicians, drug workers, etc.) was established, and anthrax anti-toxin was distributed among health practitioners to complement classical treatment protocols for those affected. In 2012 one anthrax case in Scotland was confirmed, which was followed up by further dissemination of information to drug users and drug workers.

Syringe exchange is offered by a wide range of services, including specialist syringe exchange services, detached outreach and mobile units, pharmacies and accident and emergency services. Services are available across all regions in the United Kingdom, but data on syringes distributed in England are not available. Latest available estimates are 5 140 000 for Wales in 2011/12; 197 000 for Northern Ireland in 2011/12; and 4 506 000 for Scotland in 2010/11. In 2003 the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (see section on national drug laws) was amended to allow doctors, pharmacists and drug workers to legally supply swabs, sterile water, certain mixing utensils and citric acid to drug users who obtained controlled drugs without a prescription. UK administrations have developed national programmes and pilot schemes to support the availability of naloxone for the management of opiate overdoses, including after release from prison. Following a careful review of evidence in 2010, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs recommended the exemption of foil provision as an offence under the Act in order to allow its distribution as a harm reduction intervention. However, the government has not yet passed this into law.

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2. Responses to prevent and reduce drug-related infectious diseases

Needle and syringe programmes Country  data
Availability of  NSP programmes  Full
% NSP availability at NUTS3  98 %
Drug use equipment distributed at specialised drug agencies (standard prevention material)
availability of alcohol pads  Yes
availability of dry wipes  No
availability of containers  Yes
availability of water  Yes
availability of condoms  Yes
availability of foil  No

Sources:

Structured questionnaire 'Prevention and reduction of health-related harm associated with drug use' (SQ23/29), submitted in 2014.
For an explanation of terms used, see the definitions of terms.
Availability expert rating scale:

  • Full – nearly all persons in need would obtain it.
  • Extensive – a majority but not nearly all of them would obtain it.
  • Limited – more than a few but not a majority of them would obtain it.
  • Rare – just a few of them would obtain it.
Testing, vaccination and treatment of infections Country  data
Availability of Hepatitis C testing in the community  Extensive
Availability of universal hepatitis B immunization programme  No
Hepatitis B vaccination programme specific for high risk groups  Yes
ARV treatment of HIV infection  Full

Sources:

Structured questionnaire 'Prevention and reduction of health-related harm associated with drug use' (SQ23/29), submitted in 2014.
Availability expert rating scale:

  • Full – nearly all persons in need would obtain it.
  • Extensive – a majority but not nearly all of them would obtain it.
  • Limited – more than a few but not a majority of them would obtain it.
  • Rare – just a few of them would obtain it.
Health promotion responses Country  data
Availability of individual counselling programmes  Limited
Availability of programmes for practical advice and training on 'safer use/safer injecting'  Limited
Involvement of peer educators in the response to infectious diseases prevention  Yes

Sources:

Structured questionnaire 'Prevention and reduction of health-related harm associated with drug use' (SQ23/29), submitted in 2014.
Availability expert rating scale:

  • Full – nearly all persons in need would obtain it.
  • Extensive – a majority but not nearly all of them would obtain it.
  • Limited – more than a few but not a majority of them would obtain it.
  • Rare – just a few of them would obtain it.

Drug Treatment

See the country specific treatment profile.

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3. Responses to prevent and reduce drug-related deaths

Availability of drug-related death responses in the community Country  data
Availability of overdose information materials  Extensive
Availability of individual overdose risk assessment (provided by trained drugs or health workers)  Extensive
Availability of overdose response training  Extensive

Sources:

Structured questionnaire 'Prevention and reduction of health-related harm associated with drug use' (SQ23/29), submitted in 2014.
Availability expert rating scale:

  • Full – nearly all persons in need would obtain it.
  • Extensive – a majority but not nearly all of them would obtain it.
  • Limited – more than a few but not a majority of them would obtain it.
  • Rare – just a few of them would obtain it.
Availability of drug consumption rooms Country  data
Number of facilities n.av.
Number of cities n.av.
Number of consumptions per year n.av.

Sources:

Structured questionnaire 'Prevention and reduction of health-related harm associated with drug use' (SQ23/29), submitted in 2011.
N.Av. stands for ‘The intervention is not available in the country’.

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4. Responses to prevent and reduce drug-related harms in recreational settings

Provision of specific responses implemented in night clubs and festivals Free, accessible, cold water Immediate First Aid ‘Chill out’ rooms Information material Outreach work Amnesty bins
Night clubs  Extensive  Extensive  Rare Limited Rare  Rare
Festivals  Extensive  Full Extensive Limited  Rare Limited

Sources:

Structured questionnaire 'Prevention and reduction of health-related harm associated with drug use' (SQ23/29), submitted in 2011.
Provision expert rating scale:

  • Full – in nearly all night clubs/festivals.
  • Extensive – a majority of night clubs/festivals provide the intervention (but not nearly all of them).
  • Limited – more than a few night clubs/festivals provide the intervention (but not a majority of them).
  • Rare – just a few night clubs/festivals provide the intervention.

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5. References and links

Related EMCDDA resources

 

About the EMCDDA

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) is the reference point on drugs and drug addiction information in Europe. Inaugurated in Lisbon in 1995, it is one of the EU's decentralised agencies. Read more >>

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Page last updated: Thursday, 04 June 2015