NHS Borders say rather than giving drug users “a get out clause” as claimed by MSP John Lamont, they hand out Naloxone – a tablet used if someone suffers a heroin overdose – to reduce the number of drug-related deaths in the region.
Mr Lamont spoke out after a national monitoring report into the use of the opioid antagonist - which can temporarily reverse the effects of an overdose – providing more time for emergency services to arrive and treatment to be given – showed the health board distributed 248 Naloxone kits to every 1,000 problem drug users in the region – significantly higher than any other area in Scotland.
He said figures suggested that NHS Borders needed to “rethink” how often it was handing them out, commenting: “To be handing out nearly five times as many kits as the national average is concerning and there is clearly a need for a re-think about how many of these kits we are distributing.
“This drug will encourage heroin users to test their limits as they know that there will be a fall back should they overdose. The NHS spends millions treating drug users, and that’s not including the cost to our communities who are victims of drug related crime or the families ripped apart by addicts. We should be taking a hard line on heroin use, not encouraging its use.”
But Dr Sheena MacDonald, medical director for NHS Borders said the figures suggested the health board was doing its upmost to help tackle drug problems.
She commented: “This report demonstrates our commitment to support people towards recovery and reduce the number of drug-related deaths in the Borders through critical interventions such as Naloxone kits.
“Naloxone is only provided to individuals who are already using our treatment services and the higher number of kits provided locally actually means we are directly tackling the heart of problem drug use by individuals.
“Naloxone offers the chance to save a life and sends a clear message to individuals that they can turn their life around.
“It is not the solution to drug-related deaths but it is an important intervention within a range of available treatment and support which can help reduce harm, encourage engagement with drug services and support people towards recovery.”