From the 5th of September foil is going to be legal to distribute from needle programmes in the UK. Another important piece of harm reduction kit that we can now have in our ‘toolbox’ of interventions and engagement. But changes like this still take far too long to happen.
Back in the 1980s the UK government took the decision to begin syringe distribution to injecting drug users as a way to prevent the spread of HIV. This, of course, worked very well (the UK rate of HIV in injecting drug users is far lower than in countries that didn’t support NSP). This involved having an exception to Section 9a of the Misuse of Drugs Act so ANYONE can give someone else a syringe.
In 2001 more items became exempt (citric, swabs, filters, disposable spoons and water ampules under 2ml in volume); this was in response to the spread of Hepatitis C. After a delay of two years Vit C was added. (For more on the history of paraphernalia laws in the UK Click Here).
But all this is responding to people who are already injecting, what we needed was some way of engaging people BEFORE they injected and an option to help people route transition away from it. Almost all NSP workers have tales of people who come in asking for foil, but when we tell them they can’t have it they take needles. Some services distributed foil anyway (with no one prosecuted), but many – including some of the large charities – remained risk averse and in at least one case I know of, a great worker lost their job over promoting foil as a sensible intervention.
A number of organisations including Release and the National Needle Exchange Forum have spent years campaigning for a further law change to allow legal foil provision. This change has taken over a decade to happen, a delay which has not only possibly caused more people to have blood borne virus infections, but also one that’s reduced the likelihood of some of the big services investing in it.
From September the 5th people can legally distribute foil, within certain limitations. In Theresa May’s statement regarding foil last year she said:
I really hope we see services adopting this as a tool, it will help reduce the instances of HIV and Hep C infection, prevent some of the risks cause by vein damage and of course greatly reduce the risks of overdose death.
However funding towards harm reduction focused interventions is being stretched very thin, some areas are moving to a pharmacy only delivery (which would be difficult to class as ‘structured’) and we have some large charities that are desperate to show how ‘recovery orientated’ they are by dis-investing in their existing NSP spending (which ignores NSPs place within ‘Recovery’).
As an early intervention and engagement tool foil is a great piece of kit to have. And added to that foil can be used as a discussion point with injectors about changing their risk levels and it becomes obvious that any organisation working with active drug users should have packs available.