News in brief

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Deadly drinking 

Vodka consumption is one of the main reasons why a quarter of Russian men die before the age of 55, according to a study of more than 150,000 people over the course of a decade by the Russian Cancer Research Centre, WHO and the University of Oxford. ‘Russian death rates have fluctuated wildly over the past 30 years as alcohol restrictions and social stability varied under presidents Gorbachev, Yeltsin, and Putin, and the main thing driving these wild fluctuations in death was vodka,’ said Professor Sir Richard Peto of Oxford University. Alcohol and mortality in Russia: prospective observational study of 151,000 adults at www.thelancet.com

Meth message

Although methamphetamine remains a ‘minor player’ on the European drug scene, it has the potential to cause ‘significant’ harm ‘even at a relatively low prevalence’, according to a new report from EMCDDA. While there are longer-term entrenched patterns of methamphetamine use in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, increased rates of use are also being reported in Germany, Latvia, Greece, Turkey and Cyprus, says Exploring methamphetamine trends in Europe. ‘New injection trends’ among groups of gay men in London and elsewhere (DDN, April 2013, page 6) is also a ‘phenomenon that requires close monitoring’, it states. Report at www.emcdda.europa.eu 

Home grown

More needs to be done to address the growing problem of domestic drug consumption in Afghanistan, according to UNODC. The country saw a record opium crop last year (DDN, December 2013, page 5) and now has more than a million opiate addicts, a ‘national tragedy’ according to UNODC executive director Yury Fedotov. ‘For too long the threats of illicit drugs, crime and corruption have been neglected in efforts to shore up the security and stability of Afghanistan,’ he said. ‘We need to ensure that these issues are made national priorities.’

Dry days

Nearly 17,500 people signed up for last month’s Dry January, says Alcohol Concern – four times as many as the previous year. ‘Many participants are telling us through social media that this month has been a life changing experience for them,’ said the charity’s director of campaigns, Emily Robinson. ‘They’ve had lightbulb moments about the way they drink and why. We’re incredibly proud to be able to help people make changes which we hope will have a lasting, positive impact for them.’

Poor performance

Actors pretending to be drunk were served in more than 80 per cent of bars targeted for test purchases, according to a new report from Liverpool John Moores University’s Centre for Public Health. ‘UK law preventing sales of alcohol to drunks is routinely broken in nightlife environ­ments,’ says the study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. jech.bmj.com

Improving picture

A new report from the AVA project aims to provide an updated picture of the number of women’s aid refuges in London that provide access for women who use drugs and alcohol or have mental health issues. A 2002 survey revealed that just 13 per cent provided automatic access, while a further 48 per cent said they ‘sometimes’ would. Using freedom of information requests, the report found that most boroughs now include some level of requirement to support women with drug and alcohol and/or mental health problems, with only two actively excluding them. The document wants to see clear policies on working with women with these needs, a more comprehensive approach to risk assessment, and training for all refuge staff involved in the assessment of referrals. Case by case: refuge provision in London for survivors of domestic violence who use alcohol and other drugs or have mental health problems at www.avaproject.org.uk

In harm’s way

Laws and policies and their ‘justificatory social constructions and stigmas’ are responsible for worsening avoidable harms around illicit drug use, according to a report from Youth RISE and INPUD. ‘Understandings of drug-related harm and effect within the context of a criminalising paradigm are predominantly moral’ – rather than empirical – says The harms of drug use: criminalisation, misinformation and stigma, which studies the ‘social, legal and linguistic’ contexts of drug use. Available at www.youthrise.org

Commissioning counsel

Public Health England is developing a national framework for commissioning HIV and sexual health services, the agency has announced. The aim is to provide local authorities, clinical commissioning groups and the NHS with practical advice and best practice examples. A draft document for consultation will be available in April, with the final resource due in the summer. www.gov.uk