Issue date: 15 May 2002

The number of people with a serious drug problem in the South West is estimated to be between 40,000 and 48,000 and almost half live in the former Avon boundary area according to a new report, “The impact of drug misuse on health in the South West, 1996 – 2001.” The number of dependent drug users in the Southwest has doubled in the past five years from an estimated 1.4 new cases per 1000 people in 1996/97 to 3.1 per 1000 in 2000/01.

Researchers from the Faculty of Health and Social Care at the University of the West of England, the South West Public Health Observatory and Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Trust published the report which was funded by the Department of Health, South West Regional Public Health Group.

Tony Soteriou, senior research fellow at UWE and head of research at Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust said, “The report provides the most accurate figure and picture of the scale of drug misuse in the South west over a five year period. We have concentrated particularly on health problems associated with misuse amongst drug users. Drug overdose cases are included but the report also identifies wider health implications including rising cases of intravenous drug users becoming infected with Hepatitis C and significant psychiatric admissions linked to drug misuse, especially amongst those who use heroin.”

Hepatitis C has become epidemic with cases rising from 23 in 1992 to 929 cases in 2000. Long term implications for those infected can be serious with a significant risk of developing chronic hepatitis, liver cirrhosis or liver cancer.

Tony Soteriou continued “We can now see a truer picture of the extent of drug misuse which will enable more effective planning of the health services which need to be in place to deal with the problem.

“The report has also highlighted the need to reach young people by making the services accessible. On average there is an eight year time lag between the time a drug user first experiences health problems and the time they report these problems to relevant agencies by which time they will already have put themselves at risk of overdose and infection. The research points up a need to look at the whole range of drug services and health promotion so that we can better meet the needs of people misusing drugs who currently slip through the net.”

The report is to be presented at the SouthWest Public Health annual conference in Weston-super-Mare today - Wednesday 15 May 2002.


Editor’s notes

The full report can be accessed on the South West Public Health Observatory website on www.swpho.org.uk

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