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Reduced use of illegal drugs, reduced drugs crime and reduced harms and deaths from overdoses are among the proposals in an ambitious UK Government drugs strategy document.
A Combating Drugs Minister, junior Home Office minister Kit Malthouse, will have overarching accountability for delivery. The strategy was trailed in the Government’s overall crime strategy released in the summer, and was previewed in the November print edition of Professional Security magazine.
The document makes much use of grand terms such as world-leading and world-class, and generational shifts. It acknowledges that it’s all very well to set aims, but another to get them done, and get them measured (or as the strategy puts it, there needs to be ‘alignment between national outcome expectations and local delivery’). What the document terms a ‘local outcomes framework will enable comparison with other similar areas and, in some cases, funding may be dependent on showing progress’. As for timing, the strategy says that Government ‘will engage on potential metrics early in 2022, to ensure that they are agreed and operational for the 2022/23 financial year’. As for money, an ‘additional £780m over three years’ is promised. In a nod to cuts in rehabilitation among other services during public sector austerity since 2010, the strategy mentions ‘rebuilding the professional workforce’.
Among the background to the strategy is a review by Dame Carol Black. The strategy proposes that ‘people’s physical and mental health needs are addressed to reduce harm and support recovery’, and under Project ADDER treatment, recovery and enforcement are joined up. Also proposed are ‘specialist drug workers to support treatment requirements as part of community sentences so offenders engage in drug treatment’; and as for addicts in jail, the strategy speaks of ‘improved engagement of people before they leave prison and better continuity of care into the community’. Health and Justice Partnership Co-ordinators, who liaise between prisons, probation and treatment providers, will be expanded to cover every region in England and Wales.
Also promised are ‘bold steps to change attitudes in society around the perceived acceptability of illegal drug use’, among children and adults. On the policing side, proposed is drug testing on arrest; and ‘disruptions’ against organised crime such as ‘county lines’ drug dealing from cities into counties.
Kit Malthouse said: “Drugs degrade society – they drive crime, destroy families, and illegal drugs use claims more lives each year than all stabbings and road traffic accidents combined. That is why, today, we are setting out our a ten-year plan to help drive drugs out of our cities, towns and villages and make sure those ensnared in the grip of addiction get the help they so badly need.
“This is a record level of investment and will bring our total spending on drug enforcement, treatment and recovery to more than £3 billion over the next three years – but more importantly, it will change the lives of millions of people affected by this poison.”
The strategy for tackling drugs contains a welcome emphasis on treatment, but falls short in other areas, says Keith Ditcham, of the defence and security think-tank RUSI. Visit https://rusi.org/explore-our-research/publications/commentary/harm-hope-new-uk-drugs-strategy.
HM Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell welcomed a cross-government strategy with a clear role for the Probation Service. He said: “We estimate almost 75,000 people on probation in the community have a drugs problem, yet probation services referred fewer than 3,000 individuals to specialist treatment in 2019-2020. An increase in referrals by probation services to specialist drugs services must, therefore, be a crucial measure of this strategy’s success.
“In our inspection, two-thirds of our sample fell out of drugs treatment when they left prison and returned to the community. This strategy recognises that the Probation Service and healthcare services must work together to ensure individuals continue to access treatment that supports their recovery.
“While any funding increase is to be welcomed, non-financial support is vital too. The Probation Service must provide its practitioners with appropriate training, manageable workloads, and access to specialist services to work effectively with people on probation who have drugs problems.”
For Labour, the new Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper called it long, long overdue, ‘as the Government has allowed serious problems to grow over the last few years’. She said: “Class A drug use has increased by 27pc since 2010, drug-related deaths were the highest since records began last year, and the number of children referred as suspected victims of county lines has increased by more than 30pc since 2019. Meanwhile, more than £100m has been cut from treatment services, and cuts to policing budgets have meant that specialist drug enforcement teams have taken a backseat, allowing gangs to grow, dealing to increase and demand to soar.
“Ministers need to set out a plan which properly reverses the damage the Government has done, which stops communities being blighted by criminal drug dealing and gangs and which properly addresses the new and serious drug related problems that are emerging. We need action to tackle changing patterns of drug-related crime, including the huge growth in child exploitation and the explosion in online criminal drug networks.
“Too often the Government makes grand promises, but then fails to deliver or does the opposite. Drug use is up, serious violence is up, anti-social behaviour is up. More and more offenders are getting away with their crimes as overall prosecutions have plummeted. Any action from the Government must be substantial enough to undo the damage they have caused.”
David Fothergill, Chairman of the Local Government Association (LGA) Community Wellbeing Board, said: “People with drug and alcohol problems should be able to get the right support and treatment when they need it, which this comprehensive strategy sets out to achieve.
“For many problem users, their first experience of treatment is the catalyst for getting the help they need to address their physical and mental health problems.
“Councils, which are responsible for public health, share this ambition and want to see vulnerable people being given another chance to find work, rebuild relationships and find safe and secure accommodation.
“The stark reality is that drug deaths are at their highest levels since records began, drug use among young people has increased, and it is becoming clear that more people have died of alcohol-related causes during the pandemic.
For the document, From harm to hope: A 10-year drugs plan to cut crime and save lives, visit gov.uk.