NHS Borders have strongly denied a local MSP’s claims that its issuing of take home kit for heroin addicts will encourage drug use, writes Kenny Paterson.
Statistics released this week that the region’s health board handed out more Naloxone kits - a tablet used to temporarily reverse the effects of a heroin overdose - per 1,000 people than any other area of Scotland.
It led John Lamont, the Scottish Conservatives former justice spokesman, to question NHS Borders use of the new national programme.
The Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire MSP said: “Many people will be shocked at the sheer number of Naloxone kits that are being handed out in the Borders. For every 1,000 problem drug users in the Borders we are handing out 248 of these kits which is significantly higher than every other region of Scotland.
“To be handing out nearly five times as many kits as the national average is concerning and there is clearly a need for a re-think about how many of these kits we are distributing.
“This drug will encourage heroin users to test their limits as they know that there will be a fall back should they overdose.
“This is not helping the situation and will encourage increased drug use. Drugs are a blight in our communities in the Borders, and while the recent spate of drug related arrests will help, we need to do more to discourage use.”
However, Dr Sheena MacDonald, medical director for NHS Borders, said the report’s findings showed the health authority was instead leading the way in preventing drug-related deaths by using Naloxone, which allows time for emergency services to provide help.
Dr MacDonald told us: “The idea behind this is that if a person is at high risk of overdose, they or a carer or friend will be able to administer the treatment or if they are present when someone else overdoses they can use it themselves to try and save a life.
“These kits are given to people at high risk of overdosing. This is a vulnerable group of people and evidence suggests that Naloxone will only impact on drug death figures significantly if a necessary proportion of opiate drug users (around 25 per cent) have access to Naloxone.
“NHS Borders is achieving this. 144 kits were provided which equates with a rate of 248 per every 1,000 drug users in the region being provided with Naloxone kits.
“Naloxone is only provided to individuals who are already using our treatment services and the higher number of kits provided locally actually means we are directly tackling the heart of problem drug use by individuals.
“Naloxone offers the chance to save a life and sends a clear message to individuals that they matter and that they can turn their life around.
“It is not the solution to drug-related deaths but it is an important intervention within a range of available treatment and support which can help reduce harm, encourage engagement with drug services and support people towards recovery.
“Borders Addictions Service is one of the highest performing in Scotland and will continue to offer support to drug users to reduce the number of drug related deaths in the Scottish Borders.”