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Coronavirus: Recovering heroin addicts offered monthly injections

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Chemists have been getting up to a week’s worth of prescriptions a day since the coronavirus crisis began

A new drug for recovering heroin addicts is being rolled out across Wales to prevent them having to make daily trips to over-stretched pharmacies.

Buprenorphine can be given as a monthly injection instead of alternatives such as methadone which are given daily.

Wales is the first UK nation to routinely offer the drug.

One woman on the treatment said: “You just feel well… your life is your own again.”

Chemists are among the businesses allowed to remain open in the UK and have been getting up to a week’s worth of prescriptions a day since the coronavirus crisis began.

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Wales’ Health Minister Vaughan Gething said the new service will help to ensure people continue to receive support for their addiction and we continue to reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus.

Announcing the roll-out, Health Minister Vaughan Gething said former heroin users were at greater risk of contracting coronavirus because, as a result of their substance misuse, they have poorer immune systems and many have underlying health conditions.

A mother-of-one, who has been on the treatment for the past six months, said it was “liberating” and made her “hopeful for the future”.

She said: “I became an addict when I was a teenager after a bad relationship.

“Before I knew it my life was in a downhill spiral.”

She stopped using heroin a decade ago, but six years later she relapsed and was using the drug again for a year.

“Even when I’ve sorted myself out I would wake up feeling dreadful and anxious,” she said.

“I would have to take something to feel better – over-the-counter medication – I never just felt well.”

The 36-year-old, who wanted to remain anonymous, said: “It is like a sentence. You have got to march up to the chemist every day.

“Even though I had been clean for three-and-a-half years, I wouldn’t feel that was true because I would still take something every morning to feel better.

“Every morning I felt I hadn’t achieved anything because of that. This takes that away.”

Since being put on a buprenorphine pilot scheme in Wales, she said the monthly injections had given her “independence” and a clear head.

She said: “With opiate-based medication you lose sensation, you don’t yawn, feel goose bumps as there is a deadening effect on your body, you feel numb. But you don’t get that with this. It makes you feel well, but also awake in a way you don’t with methadone, which makes you feel dopey.

“It is only the last two months it has occurred to me that I just feel okay. I can’t remember the last time that happened.

“It is like having an angel on your shoulder.”

The use of the slow-release drug had been in the early stages of being trialled in a few areas across the UK, having only been approved for use at the end of last year.

You can visit BBC Actionline for addiction information and support.

Cardiff-based drugs charity Kaleidoscope Project believes it is the biggest prescriber of the drug in the UK.

Its chief executive Martin Blakebrough said: “It is still a relatively new drug, it has been used very sparsely in some parts of England. So they are looking to us to see how it works.

“We carefully picked people for the pilot who we felt would benefit, so the response has been positive, we just need to make sure people are still accessing other therapies as it is only a medical fix and doesn’t deal with other underlying issues someone might have.”

He added: “There are two groups in particular we are using it with – the first is people who are on relatively low doses, but who still have to go to the pharmacy regularly and take their medicine under supervision. The second is people who have more chaotic lifestyles, they can’t keep appointments, so we are keeping them stable by giving them a monthly dose.”

Vaughan Gething said: “This new service will help to ensure people continue to receive support for their addiction and we continue to reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus.

“The staff in community pharmacies and our substance misuse services are doing an incredible job in very difficult circumstances. Reducing both their workload and the risk to their own health is vital.”

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