Progress towards achieving the government’s drug strategy objectives risks being wasted without funding certainty for local authorities, warns a report from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
The fact that the government has only committed to funding until 2024-25 will make it difficult for councils to ‘rebuild’ the treatment workforce, it says. ‘The PAC is disappointed that government departments seem unwilling to explore how to provide local authorities with more confidence over long-term funding,’ it states.
Efforts to reduce drug-related harm were seeing ‘mixed’ progress, according to the committee. The report welcomes the achievement in recruitment so far, with more than 1,200 new drug and alcohol workers already recruited by last year against a target of 950 by 2024-25 (DDN, November 2023, page 4), but finds ‘less progress in reducing drug use and related harms’.
The 80 per cent increase in drug-related deaths in the decade to 2021 was unacceptable, it states, with the sharp rise in drug use among younger people also ‘particularly concerning’. Although the latest OHID figures show a 10 per cent increase in the number of young people in contact with treatment services (DDN, February, page 4), the number fell by 50 per cent between 2010-11 and 2021-22, the report states.
Annual spending on treatment services fell by 40 per cent in real terms between 2014-15 and 2021-22, a ‘significant erosion of councils’ capacity and capability to deliver in this area’, and creating variations in local outcomes that have yet to be properly addressed. ‘Despite high drug use in particular amongst young people, the government’s strategy makes little reference to age, gender, ethnicity, or how people with different characteristics may experience drug misuse and treatment,’ says the committee.
‘The report therefore calls for the government to properly understand the barriers facing differing cohorts of people who use drugs and ensure that councils are sufficiently targeting these groups.’ Departments will also need to work collaboratively and adapt to evolving threats, it adds.
‘The tragic deaths and harms caused by illegal drug use are a desperate blight on our whole society,’ said committee chair Dame Meg Hillier MP. ‘As with our previous alcohol treatment services report, our committee is having to remind government that local authorities need long-term certainty to carry out what is some of the most challenging treatment there is to provide.
Some progress has been made, in particular in recruiting 1,200 new alcohol and drug workers and bearing down on county lines drugs supply. But deaths continue to rise, drug use showed no reduction in the last ten years, and the harm caused by illegal drugs is growing. The government must now dig deep and prove that it is serious about delivering the long-term change implicit in its own strategy.’
While government investment had enabled the sector to increase the number of treatment places and to strengthen the workforce, short-term funding commitments made delivering sustainable support challenging, agreed Turning Point’s chief operating officer, Clare Taylor.
‘It is important that the government remains committed towards building up skills and capacity in the sector, through continued and sustained investment. We need to work hard to make sure that substance use services are inclusive to groups underserved, including young people, working with specialist organisations to improve support and increase the number of people receiving treatment.’
‘Given the tragic levels of drug-related deaths in our communities, changing trends in drug use among young people, and the increasing use of synthetic opioids, long-term funding must be put in place so local authorities and treatment providers can deliver the breadth and quality of treatment and recovery services that our communities need and deserve,’ added Change Grow Live’s deputy chief executive Nic Adamson.
‘We can only tackle the harms from drugs with a multi-agency approach, and it’s going to take time – facts that are recognised in the government’s own ten-year drug strategy. But long-term planning only works if we know we have the funding, and without sustained investment we risk undermining the early, encouraging progress that has been made.’
Reducing the harm from illegal drugs at https://committees.parliament.uk/work/7920/reducing-the-harm-from-illegal-drugs/publications/