A Freedom of Information request has revealed that NHS Borders’ spending on drug paraphernalia more than doubled in two years.
The Borders board, answering a request by Scottish Conservatives, said that their spending on items such as syringes, wipes and sharps bins had increased from £6,309 in 2012/13 to £13,200 in 2014/15.
Local Conservative MSP John Lamont said he would prefer money went on beating drug addiction, rather than “facilitating it”.
He said: “There’s absolutely no issue with health boards working to ensure drug users are kept safe. It’s important to reduce the risk of infections spreading through things like needle-sharing.
“But people will think this is a significant spend at a time when NHS resources are tight.
“I’d prefer to see a greater emphasis on helping people to beat drug addiction, rather than spending tens of thousands facilitating it.”
Dr Tim Patterson, the interim director of public health for the Borders responded this week: “International evidence shows providing injecting equipment is important in keeping people safe and prevents the transmission of blood borne diseases such as Hepatitis C and HIV. Injecting Equipment Providers also allows the opportunity to engage with hard to reach individuals offering Take Home Naloxone (life-saving medication), wound care, harm reduction information and signposting into drug and alcohol services. Individuals are provided with sharps bins which can also safely dispose of their used equipment ensuring communities are not exposed to drug litter.
“Costs have increased due to inflation in prices, provision of sterile water in response to updated guidance and a small increase in supplies.”
Dr Patterson’s annual report for 2015 showed there are an estimated 700 Borderers – 550 males and 150 females - with “problem drug use”. This includes clients registered for specialist drug treatment services offered by NHS Borders and also drug-related hospital admissions and police reports to the Procurator Fiscal over the misuse of opiates and/or benzodiazepines.
The figure represents just 1% of the adult population – up from 0.7% a decade ago – but still well below the Scottish average of 1.7%.
Drug-related hospital stays in the region are also on the up – from 45 per 100,000 people 10 years ago to 82 last year.
“As drug users grow older, they are more likely to experience concurrent physical and mental health problems,” added Dr Patterson. “This, alongside recent increased reported prevalence, may account for some of the increase in hospital stays.”