A round-up of national news: December 2016

Alcohol is expected to cause around 135,000 cancer deaths over the next 20 years, costing the NHS an estimated £2bn, according to a new Sheffield University report. Oesophageal cancer is expected to see the largest increase, followed by bowel cancer, mouth and throat cancer and liver cancer. ‘These new figures reveal the devastating impact alcohol will have over the coming years,’ said Cancer Research UK’s director of prevention, Alison Cox. ‘That’s why it’s hugely important the public are aware of the link between alcohol and cancer.’
Alcohol and cancer trends: intervention scenarios at www.cancerresearchuk.org

HIV levels in the UK remain low but there are continuing risks among people who inject drugs and ‘outbreaks still occur’, according to PHE’s updated Shooting up: infections among people who injected drugs in the UK report. Diagnostic testing for HIV should be offered to all those at risk, it says, while ‘new patterns of injecting drug use among some groups of MSM’ is also a concern. Only 1 per cent of people who inject drugs in the UK are infected, although 17 per cent reported sharing injecting equipment and around half have been infected with hepatitis C, often without being aware. Bacterial infections also remain common, it states, some of which can lead to severe illnesses.
Report at www.gov.uk 

The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) has said it intends to appeal the Scottish Court of Session’s ruling on minimum unit pricing (MUP) (DDN, November, page 5). The decision to appeal to the UK Supreme Court – and so extend the seemingly endless MUP saga – is not one the organisation has ‘taken lightly’, said its acting chief executive, Julie Hesketh-Laird. ‘It comes after wide consultation with our member companies and other parties to the case to see whether there is an alternative way forward. However, given our strong view that minimum pricing is incompatible with EU law and likely to be ineffective, we now hope that our appeal can be heard quickly in the UK Supreme Court.’ SHAAP director Eric Carlin said the decision ‘beggared belief’, while Alcohol Focus Scotland chief executive Alison Douglas called it ‘truly shocking and saddening news’ and accused SWA members of putting shareholder profits ‘above the public interest’.

Last month’s US presidential elections also saw citizens vote on commercial models of recreational cannabis supply in five more states. Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada and, significantly, California – which has a population of nearly 40m – all voted in favour of legalising the sale and consumption of recreational cannabis, while Arizona voted against. Meanwhile, a new report from the Global Commission on Drug Policy calls for UN member states to explore regulatory models for illicit drugs and end all penalties for possession for personal use. ‘It is time to highlight the benefits of well-designed and well-implemented people-centred drug policies,’ said commission chair Ruth Dreifuss.
Advancing drug policy reform available at www.globalcommissionondrugs.org

Black and Asian men are about 1.4 times more likely to receive a custodial sentence for drugs offences than white men, according to the interim report from David Lammy MP’s review of race and the criminal justice system. For every 100 white women handed custodial sentences at crown courts for drugs offences, meanwhile, 227 black women are sentenced to custody. The review, which was commissioned by David Cameron, is due to publish its full report next year. ‘These emerging findings raise difficult questions about whether ethnic minority communities are getting a fair deal in our justice system,’ said Lammy.
Black, Asian and minority ethnic disproportionality in the criminal justice system in England and Wales at www.gov.uk

France has opened its second consumption room, less than a month after the country piloted its first project in Paris (DDN, November, page 4). Councillors in the city of Strasbourg voted 90 per cent in favour of the facility, which has a capacity for up to 150 visits a day. A third facility, in Bordeaux, is set to open soon.

There is an urgent need to scale up needle and syringe programmes (NSP) and opioid substitution therapy (OST) to keep pace with growing need, according to HRI’s latest Global state of harm reduction report. Out of more than 150 countries where injecting drug use is reported, nearly 70 still do not provide NSP – with no new countries establishing it since 2014 – while just 80 implement OST. ‘The 2011 UN target to halve HIV among people who inject drugs by 2015 was missed by 80 per cent,’ said report author Katie Stone. ‘Now people who inject drugs are being left ever further behind.’
Report at idpc.net

New guidelines for the management of coexisting severe mental illness and substance use – ‘dual diagnosis’ – have been published by NICE. Aimed at commissioners, providers, frontline staff, families, carers and others, they cover issues like referral, care plans and improving service delivery. The guidelines were ‘desperately needed’ said chair of the guideline committee, Professor Alan Maryon Davis. There needs to be ‘much wider recognition that this group of people, despite their complexities, have as much right to dedicated care and support as anyone else,’ he stated. ‘They should not be turned away or left to flounder. Every effort should be made to help them benefit from the services they so badly need. Crucial to this is a non-judgmental, empathetic approach and the building up of mutual respect and trust.’
Available at www.nice.org.uk