MORE and more steroid users are using a needle exchange service in West Wales, health leaders have said.

Last year nearly 900 people with body image and performance-enhancing drug issues accessed the syringe programme in Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion.

This accounted for 42% of the 2,086 people who injected themselves with drugs and sought help from the service – the same percentage as heroin addicts.

The findings of the annual report by the Dyed Area Planning Board – the body responsible for commissioning and monitoring substance misuse services – were presented at a Carmarthenshire Council scrutiny meeting.

Ros Jervis, director of public health at Hywel Dda University Health Board, said there was also a growing cohort of elderly people who were being referred with substance misuse problems.

“Quite a lot of new patients are maturing in years and have been unaware they are developing a habit – particularly around alcohol – and things are really starting to fall apart,” she said.

“Instead of enjoying retirement, quite a lot are having difficulties in this part of their lives.”

Ms Jervis said the Welsh Government had increased the Dyed Area Planning Board’s substance misuse budget by 10% for the current financial year.

She said this budget increase would help a shift from treatment to prevention.

The meeting heard there were 17 drug-related deaths in the three counties in 2018-19 – one more than the previous year.

Ms Jervis said the vast majority of these fatalities were people who had suffered traumatic childhood episodes, known as adverse childhood experiences.

The planning board’s priorities include providing naloxone kits to treat people overdosing on heroin.

Ms Jervis said people who had just overdosed were often receptive to further support as they might realise they’d had a “lucky escape.”

The annual report contained case studies for people with drink or drug problems, with one saying they had broken a 20-year alcohol dependency thanks to intervention from the Dyfed Drug and Alcohol Service.

Councillor Alan Speake said he felt stronger deterrents were needed to steer young people away from drugs, while councillor Karen Davies said she was concerned about the growing misuse of codeine, which is available over the counter in pharmacies.

Members of the environmental and public protection committee and social care and health committee also heard more about the work of Carmarthenshire’s substance misuse team, which received 213 referrals in 2018-19 – more than in previous years.

More than half these were from Llanelli, and 48 of the 213 were people aged 56 and over.

By far the largest referral cause was alcohol, followed by heroin.

Councillor Derek Cundy said these addictions appeared to him “an escape from pain, escape from reality and escape from boredom”.

He added: “I’m pleased with the focus on prevention. Everything else seems like a sticking plaster – an expensive sticking plaster.”

Image: Roberta F. [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

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