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PHE releases new COVID-19 guidance for commissioners and providers of services for people who use drugs or alcohol

Public Health England (PHE) has released new COVID-19 guidance for commissioners and providers of services for people who use drugs or alcohol.

The guidance makes clear that drug and alcohol services should stay open as they protect vulnerable people who are at greater risk from coronavirus and help reduce the burden on other healthcare services.

It includes information on supporting children and families and access to opioid substitution treatment (OST), along with many other key areas including considerations for people using drugs and alcohol, mental health, harm reduction and detox.

On children and families, the guidance states that given potential changes to family circumstances and coping mechanisms, drug and alcohol practitioners should monitor safeguarding issues when contacting clients. Practitioners should make referrals to children’s social care services or vulnerable adult safeguarding services where there is risk of neglect or abuse, including parents being too sick to care for their children, or children witnessing domestic abuse and violence.

On OST, the guidance recommends for services to transfer patients from supervised consumption to take-home doses. Where possible, patients may be provided with up to 2 weeks’ worth of take-home supply, which could be further extended depending on circumstances. In order to mitigate the risks created by the changes in OST availability, the guidance includes clear steps that should be taken to mitigate these risks including:

• provision of take-home naloxone

• safe storage boxes, especially if there are children in the home (but bearing in mind that boxes have limited capacity that may not be enough for liquid medicines if take-home doses have been increased)

• information sharing with children’s social care and other relevant professionals

• verbal and written harm reduction advice

• regular communication between the patient and service, enabled by the provision of mobile phones or credit if needed

The full guidance is available to read on PHE’s website.

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