On Monday 6th December, the UK Government released their 10-year Drug Strategy entitled: “Harm to Hope: a 10-year drugs plan to cut crime and save lives”. The strategy outlines three main priorities for the next decade:
- Break drug supply chains
- Deliver a world-class treatment and recovery system
- Achieve a shift in demand for recreational drugs
The strategy rightly recognises that half of people dependent on opiates and crack cocaine are not in treatment, and that drug addiction co-occurs with a range of health inequalities, especially mental health issues, homelessness, and deprivation. An additional investment of nearly £900 million is promised over the next three years to “deliver 54,500 more treatment places, prevent nearly 1,000 deaths, and close over 2,000 more county lines”, with £780 million of this total amount being spent on drug treatment and recovery support over the next three years.
Investment in improving the quality and capacity of treatment, as recommended in Dame Carol Black’s independent review, is long overdue following the decade of spending cuts to treatment services. The renewed focus on recovery is both welcome yet ironic given that cuts to funding were originally championed by the incumbent Conservative government, as the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) noted in 2017. Its impact is also diluted by the strategy’s focus on punishment; a contradiction in terms given that the threat of punishment, and stigmatisation, undermine treatment efforts and prevent people seeking treatment for their drug use, should they want it, in the first place. The strategy proposes to increase punishment for people who supply drugs, and for “lifestyle users” – people who use drugs recreationally – and leaves us in little doubt that we are still in a failed war on drugs.
We are pleased to see naloxone recognised in the strategy as a life-saving and harm-reducing intervention to be offered across the country. Unfortunately, this is only one of many types of tried and tested harm reduction measures that have been implemented by nations more progressive than ours – including heroin assisted treatment, drug consumption rooms (overdose prevention sites/supervised injecting facilities) or medical safe-supply of drugs, including prescribed diamorphine – which are not even mentioned in the new strategy. The government is aware of the evidence that these initiatives not only save lives, but can promote entry into treatment and employment, facilitate other health interventions and social integration, and can reduce offending. We know that the government is aware of these options as they were recommended by the ACMD in 2016 (the government’s expert advisory council), and are included in the Department of Health and Social Care’s 2017 Clinical Guidelines.
These notable omissions from the strategy threaten the government’s ambitious aim to establish a “world-leading evidence base” around the drivers of drug use. There is little to indicate that the government will listen to the evidence gathered, given that evidence has been ignored from: (1) the ACMD on the reclassification of drugs and measures to reduce opioid-related deaths; (2) the Home Office, whose research found no relationship between the toughness of drug sanctions and levels of drug use; and (3) the United Nations (UN) and World Health Organization (WHO), who both advocate for drug decriminalisation.
Read the full blog post here.
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