People who are dependent on drugs – including alcohol – should be categorised as a high-risk population for COVID-19, says a submission from Release and Transform to the Treasury Committee enquiry on the government’s coronavirus financial package. Protecting people who use drugs is a vital part of the wider effort to safeguard society as a whole, it states.
The ‘vast majority’ of the 320,000 people who are drug dependent will be more vulnerable to infection with – and the worst impacts of – COVID-19, say the organisations, leading to ‘vastly increased’ pressure on the NHS. The government needs to dramatically increase funding for treatment services to address the needs of the most vulnerable and help reduce the number of infections, it says, as well as supporting implementation of prescriptions outside existing guidelines to reduce social contact.
Any national prescription delivery service for ‘shielded’ vulnerable people will need to include medication such as methadone and buprenorphine, it adds, while systems also need to be put in place to ensure an adequate supply of sterile injecting equipment and other harm reduction supplies, including naloxone. Failure to protect this population would cost ‘far more both financially and in lives lost’ than the investment in treatment and the other suggested support, the submission states.
‘At a time like this, it is easy to overlook the needs of the most marginalised in our communities,’ said Transform CEO James Nicholls. ‘As we, rightly, look to protect the most vulnerable among our families – the old, and people with underlying conditions – we also need to remember those who have little or no social support at this time. The homeless, and people with alcohol or other drug problems, almost always fall to the bottom of the list when it comes to political action: which is partly why the swingeing cuts to services in recent years has been allowed to continue. At a time like this, the risk of marginalisation is further increased.’
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government have announced that £1.6bn of the government’s COVID-19 fund will go to local authorities, including for increased support for homeless people and other vulnerable populations.
People who are homeless are facing ‘severe danger’ during the COVID-19 outbreak, said Homeless Link chief executive Rick Henderson, as they are unable to self-isolate and were either relying on communal night shelters and hostels or sleeping rough. ‘Now that the country is in a lockdown period and following this investment from government, every local authority area should now move quickly to ensure that no one is sleeping on the streets, no one is sleeping in a communal setting, or using shared sanitation facilities.’
Release and Transform’s submission to Treasury Committee enquiry on government’s coronavirus financial package at release.org.uk Read it here