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Number of people attending safe needle and syringe programmes falls by 27 per cent

Published: 28 March 2023

The number of people who regularly attended needle and syringe programmes (NSP) in Wales in order to access safe equipment to inject drugs, reduced by more than a quarter in 2021-22, compared to 2019-20. 

The figures, revealed in Public Health Wales’ annual report of NSP activity, show a substantial change both in the numbers of individuals attending the service regularly, and also the profile of service users, following the lifting of restrictions during the pandemic. 

Other findings from the report show that a quarter of people who inject psychoactive substances like heroin and crack cocaine say that they share needles and syringes with others, and a third share equipment such as spoons, filters and water. 

The report also includes an estimate of coverage of the NSP service, which is the proportion of injecting ‘events’ where sterile injecting equipment is used, indicate a rate of 22 per cent.  This represents a clear risk for bacterial infections and transmission of blood borne viruses through reuse and sharing of injecting equipment among people who inject drugs. 

In addition, the proportion of those people aged 50+ accessing NSP services has increased over the last five years across all substance groups – opioids, stimulants and IPEDS (image and performance enhancing drugs). 

Rick Lines, Head of Substance Misuse for Public Health Wales, said:

“Needle and syringe programmes in Wales provide sterile injecting equipment for people who inject drugs, and aim to reduce harm by providing advice, information and referral to other services such as specialist treatment services.  The service also encourages people who use drugs to consider alternative methods for drug use, to avoid the associated risks of injecting, such as transmission of blood borne viruses and bacterial infections.  

“These figures give us an idea of the picture of injecting drug use in Wales. There are multiple reasons why the number of people attending the NSP programmes has reduced. These could include a genuine reduction in the number of people who inject drugs, a reduction in the number of people who inject drugs accessing NSP services resulting in increases in sharing and reuse of injecting equipment, an increased use of alternative sources of injecting equipment, or a combination of these and other factors. 

“It is important that we monitor these numbers over the coming years, alongside information coming from engagement with service users and front line staff, in order to close the gap of access to safe needles and syringes and to ensure that our services are robust to manage any changes in requirements in future years.” 

The report can be downloaded here: