10th March issue

The new ten-year drug strategy’s out – and yes, it’s a serious business. There’s some essential paperwork to prove it: not just the detailed strategy itself, but also the report on the consultation which gives vital clues on whose comments and suggestions made it to the strategy document. The accompanying action plan gives the timescale for key actions (some on the horizon, and some way off in the no-man’s land of beyond the next election) and says who – for the moment at least – is responsible for delivery.

It’s a lot to take in, and initial reactions have tended to land squarely on the headline grabbing. Most people I’ve spoken to haven’t had chance to read the strategy in detail yet, and have only had time to read press coverage of the bits that concern them – which is what gave us the idea of presenting key points from the strategy as a game, on page 6-7. The issues are serious, but this will give you an at-a-glance round-up until you have time to read the full document. Everyone affected by the drug strategy needs to know what’s in it sooner rather than later – how else will we keep abreast of the many timings in the action plan? ‘Getting tough’ seems to have won the headlines again, obscuring some gems of progress, particularly on family support.

The commitment to helping drug users get into treatment and reintegrate into society are among the strategy’s most important elements, but they have been swept into the coercion bag. Everyone understands the need to get vulnerable people into treatment, but why – when launching a strategy with input from right across government, including the Department of Health – focus on the threat of removing financial support?

Of course public health does not grab headlines like removing ‘bling’ from drug dealers. But we have to make sure that the daily headlines for those working in the drug and alcohol field – the increase of blood-borne viruses; rocketing rates of liver disease – do not get lost in the noise of the crowd pleasers.

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