A round-up of national news: November 2016

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OPIUM UP
Afghan opium production has soared by 43 per cent compared to 2015 levels, according to UNODC’s latest Afghanistan opium survey. The increase – to 4,800 metric tons – was ‘worrying’, said UNODC executive director Yury Fedotov. While the area under opium cultivation has also risen by 10 per cent, the most important driver in the increased production is higher yield per hectare, the document explains. The country’s western and southern regions – which together account for 84 per cent of total poppy cultivation – have recorded increases in yield per hectare of 37 and 36 per cent respectively.
Document at www.unodc.org

CONVICTION POLITICS
Prisons are failing to rehabilitate offenders and should be radically restructured, according to the final report of the RSA’s ‘Future prison’ project (DDN, September, page 10, and June, page 7). Inconsistent political leadership has created a system that ‘puts public safety at risk’ says A matter of conviction: a blueprint for community-based prisons. Among a range of recommendations in the document is that a new ‘rehabilitation duty’ be legislated requiring prisons and probation services to track individual and institutional progress towards rehabilitation. Report at www.thersa.org

PREVENTATIVE PRIORITIES
Getting people back into work is a key way to tackle health inequalities in the North East, according to a report from NECA (North East Combined Authority). Last year the region recorded the highest number of drug-related deaths in the country for the third year running (DDN, October, page 4) and it also experiences high rates of alcohol-related harm. The document calls for a ‘radical shift’ to close the health and wealth gaps with the rest of the country, including better joint working, shifting the spending focus towards prevention and developing training for primary care staff on helping people with mental health conditions back into the workplace. ‘The entire system needs to shift its priority towards preventing poor health,’ said PHE chief executive Duncan Selbie.
Health and wealth: closing the gap in the North East at www.northeastca.gov.uk

HUMAN HARM
Enforcing America’s drug laws has caused ‘devastating’ and ‘unjustifiable’ harm to individuals and communities, says a report by Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union. The document is calling for personal use and possession to be decriminalised for all drugs, as well as increased funding to improve and expand harm reduction services.
Every 25 seconds: the human toll of criminalizing drug use in the US at www.hrw.org

TROUBLING TIMES
The impact of the government’s flagship ‘troubled families’ programme has been negligible, according to an evaluation report from the Department for Communities and Local Government. Although the programme ‘clearly raised the profile of family intervention country-wide’ and transformed service development in some areas, these achievements did not ‘translate into the range and size of impacts’ that might have been anticipated based on the programme’s original aspirations, it says. In terms of outcome measures like use of drugs and alcohol in the previous three months, there was ‘no statistically significant evidence of any impacts of the programme’.
National evaluation of the troubled families programme: final synthesis report at www.gov.uk

CBD CONFUSION
Products containing the active cannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD) for medical purposes ‘meet the definition of a medicinal product’, according to a review by the government’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), but anyone selling CBD products will now need to apply for a licence. Co-author of the recent All-Party Parliamentary report on medical cannabis, Professor Mike Barnes, called the decision ‘confused’. ‘If the MHRA and the UK government now consider that cannabis-derived CBD is a medicine, this is incompatible with the continuing schedule 1 status of cannabis under the Misuse of Drugs Act that clearly states that cannabis has no medicinal value,’ he said.
MHRA statement on products containing cannabidiol at www.gov.uk

LOWER THE LIMIT
A coalition of emergency services organisations, road safety charities and health bodies is calling for the drink driving limit in England and Wales to be reduced in order to save lives. Around 240 people die each year as a result drink driving, a figure that has remained unchanged since the start of the decade, while the 80mg alcohol per 100ml blood limit has been in place since 1965 and is higher than almost anywhere else in Europe. ‘With hundreds of lives lost each year, we can’t afford to let England and Wales fall behind our neighbours in road safety standards,’ said director of the Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS), Katherine Brown. ‘It’s time the government looked at the evidence and what other countries are doing to save lives and make roads safer.’
IAS drink drive video at www.ias.org.uk

family-focusFAMILY FOCUS
A joint research project into what recovery means for the families of those with substance problems has been launched by Adfam and Sheffield Hallam University. The ‘Family life recovery project’ aims to map the recovery journey of family members through an in-depth survey and a series of workshops, with the results published next summer. The work would give ‘a voice to a group who are poorly understood and rarely listened to – those who bear much of the burden of addiction and who themselves are affected by the experience’, said project lead, Professor David Best. www.adfam.org.uk

WESTMINSTER WORRIES

westminster-worriesAlmost a quarter of the homeless people staying in hostels in the central London borough of Westminster are using synthetic cannabinoids like ‘spice’, the local authority has said – a figure that would ‘have been closer to zero just two years ago’. The drugs pose a risk to both rough sleepers and frontline staff, said cabinet member for public protection, Nickie Aiken, and the council is calling for the police to be given increased powers to confiscate them.