News in brief

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Council call

London’s drug and sexual health services are failing to respond appropriately to gay men’s drug use, according to NAT (National Aids Trust). The trust has written to councils calling for action to address a ‘recent and rapid rise’ in the use of mephedrone, crystal meth and GHB/GBL in London’s gay scene, citing high levels of injecting drug use and needle sharing. ‘We are calling on the London councils as they take on their new responsibility for commissioning both sexual health and drug services to meet this challenge and commission integrated sexual health and drugs services tailored specifically for gay men,’ said NAT chief executive Deborah Jack. ‘This is essential if we are going to reduce the high rates of HIV and STI transmission.’ See news focus page 6

EC warning

The ongoing economic crisis will see more young people selling and producing drugs – especially home-grown cannabis – at the same time as budget cuts hit treatment and harm reduction services, according to a new report from the European Commission (EC). The study was a ‘wake-up call for Europe’, said EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding. Study available at ec.europa.eu

Rural relief 

UNODC and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) are to promote grassroots development in poor rural communities dependent on the cultivation of drug crops. ‘We need to ensure that they are provided the tools to support their livelihoods, through capacity-building activities and job opportunities,’ said UNIDO director general Kandeh Yumkella. Afghanistan could serve as a pilot country to develop a joint UNODC-UNIDO project, he added. 

 Drug legacy

Fewer young people are entering drug treatment in Scotland, according to figures from ISD Scotland, with the proportion of people aged 30 and under at initial assessment falling from 49 per cent to 38 per cent since 2006/07. While the statistics were a ‘welcome sign of progress’ they were also a reminder that Scotland is ‘dealing with a long legacy of drug use’, according to community safety minister Roseanna Cunningham. ‘The majority of individuals accessing treatment are older drug users, many of whom will have been using drugs for several years if not decades.’  www.isdscotland.org 

Addicted to punishment

Some non-violent drug offenders in Latin America receive harsher penalties than murderers, according to a new report from human rights organisation the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). Penalties for offences including small-scale selling have ‘skyrocketed’ over the last decades, says Addicted to punishment: the disproportionality of drug laws in Latin America, and consistently fail to ‘distinguish between the severity’ of different crimes. ‘Not only is disproportionate sentencing unjust, but it also overloads prison systems and draws funds and focus away from legitimate regional concerns,’ the document states. Available at www.wola.org

 Mental effort

A report on steps the government needs to take to achieve parity between mental and physical health has been issued by the Royal College of Psychiatrists. It highlights the ‘significant inequalities’ between mental and physical healthcare and lower funding rates for mental healthcare ‘relative to the scale and impact’ of mental health problems. The document calls on the government to establish equivalent rates of access for mental health services, and for public health programmes to focus on the ‘mental health dimension’ of issues like substance use. ‘The government says it wants to put mental health on a par with physical health but this report shows how much needs to be done to make that a reality,’ said Rethink chief executive Paul Jenkins. Whole-person care: from rhetoric to reality at www.rcpsych.ac.uk

 Concerning issues

More than 500 health and NGO professionals from 60 countries have signed a ‘statement of concern’ about the activities of global alcohol producers. The statement, which has been sent to the World Health Organization’s director general, urges that ‘unhealthy commodity industries’ should have no role in forming public health policies. ‘What we are witnessing is the global alcohol producers adopting the same tactics that the tobacco industry used for years in their efforts to prevent public health policies that could save lives,’ said chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland Dr Evelyn Gillan. Statement at www.globalgapa.org

 Criminal guidance 

A briefing paper on commissioning and provider arrangements for healthcare services in custodial settings has been published by the Revolving Doors Agency. The document includes an overview of changes as well as guidance for organisations ‘engaging with the new health commissioning landscape’. Supporting vulnerable people in custody and at court at www.revolving-doors.org.uk