Helen Wilks, Harm Reduction Coordinator from Torbay DAAT has allowed us to post an annotated copy of a letter they sent to their local police service that can act as a template to be used by any service wanting to get a local agreement to supply foil (or any other item that is in technical breach of Section 9a of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971).
The text is red should be removed or used as a point to insert your own text.
This is a sample letter for sending to your constabulary to request a “letter of comfort” regarding the issue of foil as part of harm reduction interventions. Each police force is different in the way it is set up and how personnel and roles are divided. This letter was sent to the relevant constabulary’s criminal justice lead and copied into force intelligence leads for drugs and the lead drug liaison officers. Check who the relevant personnel are in your local force, as job roles may be different. It was also sent on behalf of all the DAATs who come under the jurisdiction of the constabulary to enable the issue to be looked at only once by the whole constabulary.
Re: Distribution of harm reduction paraphernalia by insert your county harm reduction services
I am writing to you in your capacity as insert position of person you are writing to of the insert department for clarity regarding the Constabulary’s view on providing foil to injecting drug users as a part of legitimate harm reduction interventions.
As I am sure you are aware, the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and subsequent amendments enables workers to lawfully supply to injecting drug users, needles, syringes and other items such as pre-injection swabs, spoons, citric acid and ascorbic acid, filters and ampoules of water for injection. These items are supplied for harm reduction purposes, chiefly to reduce the risk of blood borne virus infections, such as HIV and viral hepatitis being transmitted amongst injecting drug user populations and the wider community. The distribution of injecting equipment is substantially proven to have had a significantly positive impact on lowering blood borne virus transmission rates, both in the UK, and internationally.
The distribution of other items, such as foil, are however not exempt in law. Some drug services across the UK have for some time been issuing foil as a legitimate harm reduction intervention and more recently a needle exchange supply company has introduced packs of foil specifically designed to be issued to injecting drug users in order that they cease their injecting heroin use and revert to smoking as a safer method of administration (by heating heroin on foil and inhaling the vapours). In light of the above, some commissioned drug service providers across insert county/counties are now exploring the possibility of distributing foil to injecting drug users as a legitimate harm reduction intervention. Feedback from UK services who have recently engaged in foil distribution trials indicated that a number of injectors switched back to smoking for some or all of the occasions on which they took drugs.
Though not entirely without risk, heroin smoking, as opposed to injecting, may provide a number of benefits to individual and public health, as well as community safety.
Community safety: Drug related litter, in particular discarded needles and syringes, has been identified by the Department for Rural Affairs (DEFRA) as an increasing problem for Local Authorities. Studies by the Environmental Campaigns Agency (ENCAMS) and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation indicate that discarded injecting equipment is strongly associated with the public’s fear of crime and local drug use/markets. A reduction in injecting drug use is likely to positively impact on drug related litter by reducing the potential for needles and syringes being discarded in the public domain.
Blood borne viruses: Although not studied, the risk of blood borne virus transmission from smoking heroin on foil is thought to be negligible. The Health Protection Agency advises that approaching one in two injectors in the UK are infected with hepatitis C. HIV rates amongst injectors, although low (approximately one in fifty) in comparison to other countries, are now rising and are of significant concern to UK public health experts. A reduction in injecting drug use will positively impact on blood borne virus transmission rates. Drug related deaths: Heroin injectors are known to be at a considerably higher risk of overdose than those who smoke heroin. Ambulance attendance and follow up care for heroin overdoses is costly to public services, in particular the NHS.
Other injecting related damage and illness: Injectors often experience injecting related injuries and infections, ranging from local injection site damage/abscesses to deep vein thrombosis or gangrene. Serious bacterial infections such as tetanus, wound botulism and MRSA are also increasingly linked to heroin injecting.
We are mindful that the distribution of foil to drug users is not exempt in law and wish to ensure that drug workers engaged in legitimate harm reduction interventions do not risk prosecution. I would therefore be grateful if you would be able to clarify in writing that the harm reduction intervention of issuing foil to injecting drug users by drug workers would not be a policing priority at this time and that to prosecute drug workers for this action is unlikely to be in the public interest. I would very much hope that you would be in a position to give this assurance on behalf of insert county/counties Constabulary in order that all commissioned drug service providers across the peninsula have the option of adding foil distribution to the range of legitimate harm reduction interventions which they provide.
I very much look forward to your response to this matter and would be happy for you to contact me should you require any further clarification with regards to this matter.
Suggest this would best be signed by a DAAT lead or an influential drug service manager
cc copy into any other police force leads regarding drugs, eg Force Intelligence lead for drug, drug liaison officer lead (not all constabularies have drug liaison officers). If you have good links with the CPS you may also wish