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Tagged In:  Drugs, Substance Misuse

England, Scotland and Wales are amongst the only countries in the world to provide prisoners with drug overdose prevention advice from trained substance misuse professionals, a new wide-reaching report has found. 

The fifth biennial Global State of Harm Reduction 2016 was created by Harm Reduction International, a non-government organisation which works to reduce the negative impacts of drug use and policy. 

Worldwide response inadequate 

Its findings show that, worldwide, the response to drugs remains predominantly punitive, with around one in five prisoners incarcerated on charges relating to opioids. 

Within penal institutions themselves, the report highlights a “woefully inadequate” approach to harm reduction services, with only eight countries implementing needle and syringe programmes (NSP). These include Spain, Luxembourg and Germany. However, 52 countries do provide opioid substitution therapy (OST) in at least one of their prisons, with India, Vietnam, Estonia and the UK amongst their number.

Dangers of drug overdose following release

The Global State research also stresses that offenders face a heightened risk of fatal overdose following their release from prison. Very few countries offer prevention training and naxolone to offenders on their release from prison though; along with England, Scotland and Wales, these nations include Estonia and Norway. 

Furthermore, the report asserts that prison-based harm reduction around the world continues to be “extremely vulnerable” to budget cuts, financial crises and changes in political environments. 

“Regional overviews paint a bleak picture: harm reduction in prisons is either absent or plagued by restrictions, inconsistency and uncertainty,” it states. “National, regional and international prison monitoring mechanisms should systematically examine issues relating to harm reduction during their prison visits.”

Elsewhere, the Global State document outlines huge increases in drug-related deaths around the world; fatalities in Canada have risen by a colossal 327 per cent since 2008 and by 137 per cent since 2000 in the United States. 

Indeed, North American drug-related deaths account for a quarter of such fatalities world-wide. In the UK, there has been a 64 per cent increase in heroin and morphine-related deaths since 2014 – the highest rate ever recorded in the country. 

Despite these figures, the research shows that the numbers of NSPs and OSTs have not increased since the last Global State report in 2014. This “striking statistic” is the first time programme levels have remained the same since 2008. 

The report continues: “It truly is time for governments and international agencies to rethink the objectives of global drug policy and revisit the means by which they measure their success, to encompass coverage of services, reduction of harms, and lives saved.”

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