Contaminated heroin claims another victim




Heroin infected with anthrax has claimed its first victim in Kent. The victim was admitted to hospital over the weekend and was pronounced dead yesterday afternoon. She was a 37 year old woman who was an injecting drug user.
The news comes as the latest development in an ongoing crisis of Heroin users being infected with anthrax through injection, the fifth case this year in London and over thirty in the UK in the past twelve months. The staff in the Release Drugs team is questioning the possibility that when there is a shortage of Heroin in the market seems to correlate with the cases of infected batches. Various local agencies and NHS Trusts have launched an investigation to trace the source of the contaminated Heroin.
The Director of the Kent Health Care Protection Unit, Dr Mathi Chandrakumar, said “I’d like to reassure people that there is no risk to the general population, including close family members of the patient.
“It is extremely unlikely that this form of anthrax can spread from person to person.
“We continue to see occasional cases of this serious infection among injecting drug users, following a cluster of cases earlier this year.”
The HPA website has a document about how drug workers and users can effectively deal with the threat. However this may be unhelpful to many heroin users because of the limited ways this information is available.
While the concern to public safety as a whole is paramount, authorities are failing to sufficiently highlight the very real concern that the number of cases has increased dramatically per year since 2007 when three cases were reported to twenty-two confirmed cases in 2009. However, the number of cases or even deaths may not be accurate due to homeless drug users who are not admitted to hospital.
This marginalization of heroin users may affect the statistics because users fear the consequences of admitting themselves to hospital. Many drug users, especially the homeless, feel they are stigmatized within the medical profession. The full extent of the cause of death connected with heroin use may also lie in the fact that there is a fear of blood born viruses, such as HIV or Hepatitus C, are still contractible after death and autopsies are not performed.
The geographical widening is also of great concern. The outbreak began in Scotland where fourteen infections were reported last year. In February this year, a case in Blackpool was reported before a case in Leicestershire was confirmed in August. With contaminated heroin coming London earlier this year, it has now reached its most southern point in the UK; Kent. There was a case in Dec 2009 in Germany but it is thought to be unrelated.