Delayed drug strategy promises ‘national recovery champion’

The government’s long-awaited drug strategy has finally been published, and includes both a new ‘national recovery champion’ role and a cross-government drug strategy board to be chaired by the home secretary, Amber Rudd. The UK will ‘drive global action and enhance its leadership in the international response to drugs’, the government states.

Home secretary Amber Rudd announces a focus on strong law enforcement, alongside prevention and ‘drug free’ recovery.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is a focus on a ‘strong law enforcement approach’ to restrict supply and dismantle trafficking networks, as well as action to strengthen border controls and share intelligence internationally. The national recovery champion role, meanwhile – to be appointed by the Home Office and Department of Health – will ‘make sure adequate housing, employment and mental health services are available to help people turn their lives around’, while efforts to reduce demand include continued expansion of the Alcohol and Drugs Education and Prevention Information Service (ADEPIS).

The strategy also includes changes to the way the ‘long-term success of treatment’ is determined, with a requirement on services to ‘carry out additional checks to track the progress of those in recovery at 12 months, as well as after six, to ensure they remain drug-free’ as part of the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System (NDTMS).

While rates of drug use are falling, there are significant and growing problems around NPS, ‘chemsex’ drugs, performance and image enhancing drugs and misuse of prescription drugs, the document states. A new NPS intelligence system being developed by Public Health England (PHE) will help to reduce the length of time between NPS-related health harms emerging and effective treatment responses, while data from the Report Illicit Drug Reactions (RIDR) system will be analysed to identify patterns of harm and agree clinical responses.

The home secretary’s chairing of the new cross-government drug strategy board will help to ‘drive action and ensure the strategy is delivered by all partners’, says the Home Office, and police will be encouraged to refer drug-misusing offenders to ‘appropriate services to maximise the significant benefits that investment in treatment can have on reducing crime and anti-social behaviour’. The financial cost of the UK’s drug problem stands at almost £11bn a year, the strategy says, with drug-related theft alone accounting for £6bn.

The document also includes a commitment to ‘supporting prison officers to play a bigger role in the recovery process of drug offenders’ and ‘maintaining our world-leading drug and alcohol treatment system’, although analysis by The King’s Fund published earlier this week identified reductions to local authority public health spending of £85m compared to the previous financial year.

‘This government has driven a tough law enforcement response in the UK and at our borders, but this must go hand in hand with prevention and recovery,’ said Amber Rudd. ‘This new strategy brings together police, health, community and global partners to clamp down on the illicit drug trade, safeguard the most vulnerable, and help those affected to turn their lives around. We must follow through with our commitment to work together towards a common goal – a society free from the harms caused by drugs.’

Paul Hayes: The home secretary’s personal commitment will provide the political energy to turn aspirations into outcomes.

‘The government’s recognition that evidence-based treatment, recovery, and harm reduction services need to be at the heart of our collective response to drug misuse is very welcome,’ said Collective Voice chief executive Paul Hayes. ‘Investment in treatment has reduced levels of drug use, cut drug-related crime, enabled tens of thousands of individuals to overcome dependence, and is crucial in combating the recent increase in drug-related deaths. The home secretary’s commitment to personally lead this cross-government effort, and the increased transparency of local performance provide the political energy and focus needed to turn the strategy’s aspirations into outcomes.’

Click to read: The drug strategy 2017 

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