The government has announced an £80m investment in drug treatment services across England.
The money will partly be used to increase the number of treatment places for people leaving prison as well as offenders diverted into community sentences, and forms part of an overall package of £148m to cut drug-related crime.
The £148m package represents a ‘system-wide approach’, the government says, by providing extra resources to law enforcement to tackle supply combined with ‘the largest increase in drug treatment funding for 15 years’. However, while money will go towards funding naloxone provision for ‘every heroin user in the country that needs it’ as well as ‘ending the postcode lottery’ for inpatient treatment, the £80m represents just half of the £160m estimated reduction in treatment funding since 2013.
The Scottish Government has pledged £250m to tackling its record high rates of drug-related deaths, with £50m to be allocated annually for the next five years.
As well as helping offenders to access treatment on release, the funding package will also enhance the RECONNECT service to support people with complex needs to engage with mental health, substance and other services for up to a year after leaving prison. A further £28m will go towards Project ADDER (Addiction, Diversion, Disruption, Enforcement and Recovery), a pilot programme combining ‘enhanced’ treatment and recovery services with ‘targeted and tougher’ policing. The project will include local authorities, health services and the police and is scheduled to run for three years in five areas with significant drug problems – Blackpool, Hastings, Middlesbrough, Norwich and Swansea Bay. Another £40m will go towards tackling county lines gangs, bringing the total invested in this since late 2019 to £65m.
‘I am determined to cut crime and restore confidence in our criminal justice system, so that people can live their lives knowing their family, community and country is safe,’ said home secretary Priti Patel. ‘The government’s work to tackle county lines drugs gangs has already resulted in thousands more people being arrested and hundreds more vulnerable people being safeguarded, but we must do more to tackle the underlying drivers behind serious violence. That is why today’s announcement will provide the largest investment in drugs treatment and support in 15 years, while also giving more resources to law enforcement so they can continue dismantling organised criminal gangs and tackling the supply of drugs.’
Dame Carol Black, the second part of whose Independent review of drugs is due to be published this year, said she was ‘delighted’ by the £80m pledge. ‘This will assist local authorities to improve the services they deliver in this important area, in all their various aspects,’ she said.
Turning Point also welcomed the additional funding for substance misuse treatment services, but emphasised that the sector was under serious pressure. ‘Increased caseloads and greater numbers of people in crisis as a result of the pandemic come on top of a decade of austerity and real terms cuts to treatment budgets of 37 per cent between 2014 and 2019,’ said Clare Taylor, director of operations.
‘The evidence base is clear,’ she added. ‘We know that treatment works – providing life-saving support to people at their most vulnerable with huge benefits to local communities in terms of reducing crime and anti-social behaviour and reducing pressure on the wider health and care system.’
The investment was coming at a critical time as the drug treatment sector would be facing ever-increasing demand on treatment services in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, commented Nic Adamson, executive director at Change Grow Live. ‘Substance misuse in communities does not exist in a vacuum, but closely correlates with issues of poor mental health, poverty, unemployment and homelessness,’ she said. ‘With the current pandemic worsening inequalities in all these areas, we must brace ourselves for escalating rates of illicit drug use and addiction nationally.’
She welcomed the new investment, hoping it was an indication of a longer term commitment to increased funding: ‘Fundamentally, we need a shift in perspective so that substance misuse and addiction are primarily addressed as health issues, not as criminal justice issues. This will mean that resources can be directed towards evidence-based services, which enable people to break the cycle of addiction and crime and benefit people struggling with substance misuse and society as a whole.’