'We must build on our positive work supporting those who have been struggling with substance misuse and should be heartened that drug deaths in Wales have fallen to record low levels,’ Deputy Minister for Mental Health Lynne Neagle has vowed.
The Deputy Minister was recently given a tour of the Community Addiction Unit at Cardiff Royal Infirmary to see the treatment available to services users, and speak to those who have used them.
The service centre has had to adapt how it treats patients during the pandemic, after face to face meetings, drop ins and admission to residential rehabilitation were paused.
Services wherever possible offered alternative support and worked closely with the most vulnerable service users, in particular closely working with homeless people and homelessness services.
The Welsh Government has actively worked to support, adapt and sustain critical services throughout the pandemic. This included more than £3.3m supporting the rapid implementation of a clinically proven method of maintenance treatment, an injectable buprenorphine (Buvidal®) for at risk ex-heroin users.
During the visit the Deputy Minister will meet a woman who had struggled with homelessness, mental health problems and addiction issues throughout her life, but through treatment with Buvidal at the facility had made significant progress and is now in full time work, fully re-engaged with her children and her mum, and has improved both mentally and physically.
Speaking about the impact of Buvidal, she said: “I just think it’s a miracle drug. I took it and didn’t need heroin. I had no anxiety either. Everything else didn’t stop that. Before, nothing else mattered, not even the kids. Buvidal puts you in a different place – it’s monthly and you can get on with your life.”
It comes as drug misuse deaths in Wales have fallen to their lowest levels since 2014 in the latest analysis from the Office of National Statistics.
In 2020, there were 224 drug poisoning deaths (involving both legal and illegal drugs) in Wales. Of these, 149 were drug misuse deaths (involving illegal drugs). There were 16 fewer (6.9%) drug poisoning deaths than 2019 and also 16 fewer (9.7%) drug misuse deaths than in 2019 too. This is the lowest number of drug misuse deaths reported since 2014 in Wales.
The Deputy Minister’s visit came on the day the Substance Misuse annual report, which covers the period up until March 2019, was published. The report showed more than 90% people are receiving treatment within the targeted time, 86.6% of people reported a reduction in their substance misuses after treatment and 82.5% of people have completed treatment either problematic substance free or have reached their treatment goals. All of these have been above their respective targets.
The Welsh Government invests £55m annually into its substance misuse agenda and in 2020-21 a further £4.8m was also made available to support the response to COVID 19.
Deputy Minister for Mental Health Lynne Neagle said: “Whilst every death is a tragedy, we are heartened and encouraged to see the lowest rate of drug misuse deaths recorded in Wales since 2014.
“Despite this promising progress, we understand that more still needs to be done to ensure those struggling with substance misuse issues, addiction and homelessness have access to the necessary support services when they need it the most. We need to do more to tackle the stigma so many people face in relation to substance misuse and recognise for many individuals substance misuse is as a result of significant trauma not a lifestyle choice.”
She added: “It is through essential work at facilities like these that we hope to continue seeing a fall in drug deaths in Wales and more people having a positive outcome after going through treatment.”
“I would also like to thank all the staff across Wales who kept these vital services running throughout the pandemic, not least for their assistance in supporting efforts to bring people in off the streets.”
Professor Jan Melichar, from Cardiff and Vale University Health Board, said:
“The availability of Buvidal has been a game changer for many our service users living with opioid dependence. There have been so many remarkable recovery stories that it is almost the new normal.
“However, many still have numerous issues which we continue to now successfully work on with them. We are proud to have played our part in leading the way with the roll out of the drug. We are already seeing the positive impacts it can have on the lives of services users, as well as their wider support networks.”