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Deadly synthetic opioids flood Welsh market, charity warns of impending crisis

Leading substance use charity Barod is warning about the public health threat in Wales posed by synthetic opioids, specifically nitazenes.

According to the charity, nitazenes have entered the illegal drug market in Wales, significantly increasing the risk to life for those who unintentionally consume the substance.

In March, the UK Government, following advice from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, classified 15 additional synthetic opioids, including 14 nitazenes, as Class A drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. As a result, anyone involved in the production or supply of these drugs could face life imprisonment, an unlimited fine, or both. Those caught in possession of them could also face up to seven years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both.

Growing Concern

Drug-related deaths in Wales have hit record levels three times in the last five years, with 2022 recording the third-highest figures. In 2021, 40% of people who died from a drug-related overdose in Wales had had ‘no known contact’ or no contact with services 12 months prior to death. Additionally, alcohol-specific fatalities in Wales reached record levels for the third consecutive year in 2022.

Barod’s Chief Executive, Caroline Phipps, is set to deliver a keynote address at the Pierhead, Cardiff Bay, today (19 June) to launch the charity’s Blueprint. This Blueprint features 10 urgent calls aimed at mitigating the deadly threat and levelling the playing field for people in Wales who use substances.

The event at the Pierhead will also feature contributions from Barod staff and service users, along with speakers such as Minister for Mental Health and Early Years, Jayne Bryant MS; Chair of the Senedd’s Substance-Use and Addiction Cross-Party Group, Peredur Owen Griffiths MS; Professor Fiona Measham, Chair in Criminology at Liverpool University and founder of The Loop; and Professor Magdalena Harris, Professor of Inclusion Health Sociology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

The Calls in Full

  1. The Welsh Government and key stakeholders should adopt a change in language to help reduce stigma among people who use substances.
  2. Concerned others should be recognised as a group in their own right and adequately supported to improve their health and wellbeing, as well as that of their loved ones.
  3. The alcohol-related exclusion clause within the Equality Act 2010 should be removed.
  4. Memorandums of understanding should be established to enable the implementation of Enhanced Harm Reduction Centres in Wales.
  5. A Drug Overdose Good Samaritan Act should be enacted in Wales to help save lives.
  6. Safer inhalation devices should be distributed to people who use crack cocaine via needle and syringe programmes.
  7. Community drug-checking services should be part of harm reduction interventions across Wales.
  8. All substance-use services in Wales should be underpinned by a trauma-informed approach.
  9. An updated substance-use delivery plan should be provided to ensure consistent standardisation of care across Wales and equip the substance use field with the strategic foundations to address growing life-threatening concerns.
  10. Young people with lived and living experience of substance use should be at the heart of the design and delivery of services for young people.

“Challenge Thinking”

Ahead of the event, Caroline Phipps stated: “At Barod, we believe we need to be brave and bold if we are to help reduce harm and save lives in Wales. We want Wales to be ready for what’s to come. After all, three people die each week due to synthetic opioid use across England and Wales. This is set to increase. A clear intervention, for example, would be to develop pioneering harm reduction spaces, where we challenge people’s thinking, address stigmatising attitudes and behaviours, while all the while using national and international evidence to inform our thinking.”

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