CONCERNS have been raised over the prevalence of needles on the Capital’s streets as it was revealed that health chiefs forked out £300 per day on equipment for drug users in under two years.
New figures show that NHS Lothian spent £211,631 handing out paraphernalia to drug addicts such as spoons used by heroin addicts, citric acid, foil and water for injections between April 2014 and last December.
Providing clean injecting equipment can prevent users from contracting a range of illnesses such as tetanus and septicaemia as well as blood-borne infections such as hepatitis C.
Miles Briggs, Tory candidate for Lothian, said the “incredible spend” would raise questions about the health board’s priorities, as more should be done to help addicts stop using. He said: “There is definitely a place for the NHS to ensure those dependent on drugs are kept safe. Perhaps most importantly, it is vital that we keep any needles out of our communities.
“But people will see this incredible spend and wonder about priorities. We should really be focused on helping people beat addiction, rather than facilitating it.
“I would hope that at every opportunity NHS Lothian provide the chance for addicts to seek professional help to address their drug addiction.”
Moves to address the hazards caused by drug paraphernalia would be welcome but restricting access to equipment could create a serious safety risk, said independent councillor Jim Orr.
Cllr Orr, who represents Southside/Newington ward, said: “We all want a safer culture of minimal illegal drug use but it seems unlikely to me that restricting access to clean equipment will help move us towards this vision.
“However, any sensible initiative to reduce the amount of discarded drug paraphernalia would be welcome. Over 200 needles were picked up in one small wooded area of the Southside at the weekend. This is just another unwelcome inhibition to children playing safely outside.”
NHS Lothian said such services were “essential” for protecting drug users as part of their recovery and preventing the spread of infection to the wider community.
Jim Sherval, NHS Lothian public health consultant, said: “The provision of injecting equipment services is essential to protect those people who choose to inject their drugs from infection and by extension to prevent the spread of infection and we work closely with colleagues in alcohol and drug partnerships, Scottish Government and third-sector organisations to help achieve that.
“NHS Lothian is committed to supporting the services, which also deliver a wide range of interventions.
“Health workers don’t only provide equipment, they also use the opportunity to get to know people, give them advice and in many cases get them into treatment services and on a journey that can result in recovery.”