With You launches first easily accessible ‘find a needle and syringe’ service to address escalating safety concerns sparked by the pandemic
With drug related deaths in England at record levels, drug, alcohol and mental health charity With You is launching the first easily accessible service to find needle and syringe exchanges, in a bid to help people who use drugs stay as safe as possible during the pandemic and beyond.
The tool, which can be accessed via With You’s website, is the first search engine where people can find information solely about their local needle and syringe services in England, with advice about how to reduce harm.
Needle and syringe services have operated in the UK since 1985. They operate out of a range of spaces including drug and alcohol services, community settings, pharmacies and homeless centres and services. People can pick up fresh equipment used when taking drugs, such as needles, as well as the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone. People can also deposit used equipment, meaning it isn’t left on the streets. Staff who work in needle and syringe services also regularly give out potentially lifesaving advice to help people reduce harm, while studies have shown they are effective in helping people access drug treatment and in reducing the spread of bloodborne viruses like Hepatitis C.
At the same time, With You is also releasing a host of online, diagram based harm reduction advice to encourage people who use drugs to do so more safely, including advice on how to use the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone, how to inject drugs in the safest way possible, what to do if someone overdoses and advice for safer steroid use.
A recent survey by the drugs charity Release found that 39% of respondents said they had overdosed more often due to the pandemic, while 36% said they had shared equipment in the past year.
Laura Bunt, Deputy Chief Executive at With You said:
“When we first went into lockdown, our data showed the number of people visiting pharmacies or specialist services for new syringe packs was down by 50%. We were concerned as this may mean many people were re-using equipment and not getting advice to help reduce the risk of harm. We know people are much more likely to use drugs alone at the moment due to social distancing measures, meaning there is less likely to be someone else present to call the emergency services if something goes wrong.
“Our research has shown that people really value needle and syringe services but aren’t sure what is and isn’t open at the current time. Our new find a needle and syringe service can help many more people access the equipment and support they need, while our new online advice will help keep them as safe as possible.
“We know people take drugs. We don’t condone it, but nor should we bury our heads in the sand. Drug related deaths are at record levels in the UK, while the enforced isolation of the pandemic has been really tough on some people, with drugs offering an escape. This is about following the evidence of what works while treating people who use drugs with compassion.
Richard Townsend, a volunteer at With You in North East Lincolnshire, said:
“When I was using drugs, needle and syringe exchanges were so important. Going into a pharmacy can be very transactional; you go in, get your medication and leave. In a needle and syringe exchange it’s much more personal. It’s not just a space to pick up fresh equipment, you develop a relationship with the staff who give really good advice on how to stay as safe as possible when using drugs. It’s also often the first step on the road to accessing treatment.
“With the restrictions of the pandemic it can be really hard to know what’s open and what isn’t. At the same time the enforced isolation has led to more people using drugs on their own, so I think this new needle and syringe exchange finder will be really helpful for a lot of people.”