A monthly treatment for recovering heroin addicts is to be rolled out across Wales, to avoid patients having to make daily trips to over-burdened community pharmacies during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Buprenorphine - the drug being utilised in this treatment - comes in an injectable form that can be given to patients once a month.

Former heroin users who are currently receiving substance abuse treatment daily through their community pharmacy will be individually screened for their suitability to have the injection which they can then receive at their pharmacy.

Health minister, Vaughan Gething, stressed the potential positive impact this new service could have on community pharmacy staff in Wales; by not only reducing workload, but also reducing the spread of the virus.

‘The staff in community pharmacies and our substance misuse services are doing an incredible job in very difficult circumstances. Reducing both their workload and the risk to their own health is vital.

‘This new service will help to ensure people continue to receive support for their addiction and we continue to reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus.’

Benefit to patients

As a group, substance abuse treatment users are at greater risk of contracting the virus, he said, and monthly treatment will benefit them by reducing their footfall in public.

He said: ‘Former heroin users are at greater risk of contracting coronavirus because, as a result of their substance misuse, they have poorer immune systems, and many will have underlying health conditions.

‘People who sleep rough and who have substance use issues are even more likely to have respiratory conditions and other underlying health problems, which put them at very high risk.’

A consultant addiction psychiatrist at the Gwent Specialist Substance Misuse Service, Dr Julia Lewis, said: ‘Securing the support of the Welsh Government for this treatment will hugely reduce the pressures on both our services and community pharmacies, enabling us to focus our work on our most vulnerable service users, many of whom have complex needs, including mental health issues.

Financial consideration

A spokesperson for Community Pharmacy Wales (CPW) told The Pharmacist that although the group welcomed the change, and the benefit to pharmacy teams as well as patients, they were concerned about a potential negative financial impact on contractors. ‘Community pharmacies in Wales have reported a significant reduction in the number of supervised doses they are seeing for patients during the Covid crisis.

‘This step to move to monthly injections rather than daily doses is positive in that it will reduce daily pressures. However, there is a concern that this step might affect contractors negatively in terms of remuneration due to potentially reduced prescription fees, and this is something we will be pursuing with the Welsh Government, as this is clearly not the time to put community pharmacists under even more financial pressures.’

What’s happening in your area? Contact Isabel at [email protected] with any information that would be useful for us to share with community pharmacy colleagues