With a general election that could shape the sector for the next five years and beyond now looming, DDN looks back on another dramatic year in the drugs field
The year kicks off with the government announcing that its ban on the sale of below-cost alcohol is to come into force in the spring. The legislation is instantly derided as ‘laughable’, ‘confusing’ and ‘close to impossible to implement’ by Alcohol Concern chief executive Eric Appleby, whose organisation – along with many others – still wants to see minimum pricing instead. Alcohol charity Drinkaware, meanwhile, announces ‘radical’ changes to its governance arrangements following an independent audit and criticisms over industry links.
DDN’s national service user conference chalks up a seventh successful event with Make it happen! in Birmingham – ‘emotive speakers with real passion and drive’, says PHE. As Russia prepares for the Sochi Winter Olympics, activist Anya Sarang tells DDN about the stark consequences of her country’s ongoing opposition to opioid substitution therapy, and crime prevention minister Norman Baker accepts the ACMD’s recommendation that ketamine be reclassified to class B. Worryingly, more than a third of services surveyed for DrugScope’s State of the sector report say their funding decreased in the previous year, while Nick Clegg tells the Observer that ‘if you’re anti-drugs, you should be pro-reform’ and there’s shock as actor Philip Seymour Hoffman becomes the latest high profile drug casualty.
MPs demand action on liver disease, warning that ‘today’s complacency is tomorrow’s catastrophe’, with deaths increasing by a staggering 40 per cent in the space of a decade. Activists still have Russia in their sights as they warn that its annexation of Crimea means that the peninsula’s drug users are now at the mercy of its ‘highly repressive’ and ‘deeply punitive’ approach, while harm reduction organisations brand the joint ministerial statement issued at the UN’s Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in Vienna a ‘capitulation’ to hardline states.
A hard-hitting report from Adfam says that children are being put at risk by a lack of proper safeguards around OST prescribing, while NICE says needle exchange services need to do more to support users of performance-enhancing drugs. Meanwhile, Stanton Peele casts a critical eye at the 12-step approach in the pages of DDN. ‘Like carp infesting a lake drive out other species, AA and 12-step treatment rule out other, often more effective approaches,’ he writes, ensuring a full-to-the-brim letters page in the following issue.
Positive trends in the use of long-established drugs risk being overshadowed by the relentless increase in new synthetic substances in an ‘increasingly complex and damaging’ drug market, says a comprehensive report from EMCDDA. PHE figures showing a continuing fall in the number of opiate and crack users leave ‘no room for complacency’, agrees the agency’s Roseanna O’Connor, and home secretary Theresa May announces an overhaul of stop and search following Release’s damning report from last year.
Turning Point’s medical director Dr Gordon Morse writes that it’s time for commissioners to start considering ‘evolution over revolution’ in DDN, while more than 100 cities worldwide see demonstrations as part of the Support. Don’t Punish campaign for more humane drug policies.
The government’s announcement of a new set of pledges as part of its controversial ‘responsibility deal’ with the drinks industry leaves health campaigners unimpressed, while new figures show rates of drug use among secondary school pupils ‘considerably lower’ than a decade ago.
Scottish drug-related deaths fall by 9 per cent, after two years of record high figures, with the Scottish Government pointing to the success of their take-home naloxone programme. Legislation finally comes into force allowing drug services to provide aluminium foil, and an all-party group of MPs calls for health warnings to be put on all alcohol labels. There’s also a sure sign that things are changing when a Sun editorial says it’s time for a rethink on drugs policy.
In contrast to last month’s encouraging news from Scotland, a sharp rise in drug deaths in England sparks alarm in the field, with DrugScope expressing ‘serious concerns’. The CQC sets out its new approach to inspecting drug and alcohol services and promises the sector that it will ‘focus on the issues that matter’, while the annual UK recovery walk hits number six in Manchester.
The Home Office’s study of international drug polices finds ‘no apparent correlation’ between the toughness of a country’s approach and levels of use, setting off a media frenzy, and crime prevention minister Norman Baker accuses the government of ‘suppressing’ the document, which has been ready for months. Less than a week later he resigns, stating that working with home secretary Theresa May was like ‘walking through mud’.
Fewer than half of those infected with hepatitis C know they have the virus, warns PHE, with around 90 per cent of the 13,750 hepatitis C infections diagnosed in the UK in 2013 acquired through injecting drug use, while the ACMD rejects the concept of time-limited substitution treatment. ‘There’s still an appetite in bits of government to re-ask the question about time-limited methadone, but the evidence remains the evidence,’ ex-NTA chief Paul Hayes tells DDN. Right on cue, Iain Duncan Smith pens a Sunday Telegraph piece under the headline Now fight the methadone industry that keeps addicts hooked. Finally, DDN celebrates its tenth birthday with a special anniversary issue. ‘I thought they’d taken leave of their senses,’ writes ex-FDAP chief Simon Shepherd of the time DDN’s publishers told him they’d quit their jobs to set up the magazine.
As DDN looks to its 11th year, preparations are well underway for the next service user involvement conference, The challenge: getting it right for everybody, in Birmingham next February. See you there!