Review of the year 2013

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DDN looks back on a year that saw the drug treatment landscape transformed with the end of the NTA and the advent of Public Health England, while austerity, alcohol and new psycho­active drugs continued to dominate debate 

January

With welfare reform set to be one of the key issues of the year, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady warns of the dangers of conducting policy ‘on the basis of prejudice and ignorance’, while outgoing UKDPC chief executive Roger Howard stresses that most people have yet to fully appreciate ‘the profound reshaping of public spending’ still to kick in. Meanwhile, the Royal College of GPs issues a statement stressing the risks of long-term prescribing for medi­cines that carry a risk of dependence. 

February

Hundreds gather at Birmingham’s National Motorcycle Museum for Be the change, DDN’s sixth annual service user conference. ‘The place was buzzing like a bee hive,’ commented Recovery Radio UK’s Jaine Mason. ‘It was absolutely brilliant to experience.’ There’s yet more evidence of shifting patterns of drug use as an EMCDDA report highlights how the internet has been a ‘game changer’ in the production and distribution of drugs, the NTA announces the number of heroin and crack users has fallen below 300,000 and the proportion of drug-related deaths involving heroin drops by nearly 10 per cent. 

March

A shocking 117 per cent increase in the number of under-30s being admitted to hospital for alcohol-related liver disease leads Alcohol Concern to demand the Department of Health outline a plan of action. Meanwhile the Hepatitis C Trust warns that local authorities are unready to deal with the challenge of the virus as they prepare to take over responsibility for public health, and the National Aids Trust calls on London councils to ensure appropriate support for people involved in high-risk drug use in parts of the city’s gay scene.

April

The treatment landscape changes forever as Public Health England comes into being, taking over the respons­ibil­ities of the NTA, while Sarah Galvani of the British Association of Social Workers urges drug workers to challenge clients who blame violence towards their partners on substance use. ‘People need to feel confident to ask the right questions in the right way,’ she says.

May 

Minimum unit pricing for alcohol fails to make the Queen’s Speech, widely perceived as the result of industry lobbying – ‘the red-faced rants from the multinational drinks corporations’, says Katherine Brown in the Guardian – and a government desperate not to seem out of touch with the concerns of ordinary people, although ministers claim the policy has not been abandoned. Kevin Flemen advises DDN readers on how to keep on top of the dizzying array of new psychoactive substances and the Organization of American States issues a landmark report looking at different options for the future of Latin American drug policy. 

June

The 23rd International Harm Reduction conference sees policy makers and service users gather in Vilnius to ‘reclaim’ harm reduction from those who seek to define it as a ‘morally suspect, clinical response’, says HRI executive director Rick Lines. The Support. Don’t Punish campaign’s international day of action on 26 June sees activists calling for more humane drug policies and a hard-hitting report from DrugScope and Ava highlights the lack of support for female drug users involved in prostitution.

July

The government’s response to its alcohol strategy consultation finally contains a firm statement that minimum pricing ‘will not be taken forward’ – and shelves plans to ban multi-buy promotions for good measure – while public health minister Anna Soubry and IDHDP clinical director Chris Ford debate whether drugs should be a health or criminal justice issue in DDN’s letters pages.

August 

Scotland records its second-highest number of drug deaths while a powerful report from Release reveals that not only are black people over six times more likely to be stopped and searched for drugs, they are more likely to be charged if any are found and receive harsher sentences than the white community. Alcohol Concern chief executive Eric Appleby, meanwhile, tells DDN that members of the Alcohol Health Alliance are more determined than ever to keep minimum pricing at the forefront of debate. ‘The government’s arguments that there’s not enough evidence are plainly just wrong, and the very obvious sense that they’ve just bowed down to the alcohol industry is only going to fire people up more,’ he says.

September

Public Health England hits back at a Centre for Social Justice document that depicts a treatment system full of ‘vested interests’, resistant to change and ‘unambitious for recovery’, while a UNAIDS report shows that many Eastern European countries are still failing to address the challenge of drug-related HIV infections. Meanwhile, recovery month is marked by bigger than ever recovery walks as well as sporting tournaments, conferences, art exhibitions and much more. 

October

Just 3 per cent of people infected with hepatitis C are treated each year, despite it being curable, according to a report from the Hepatitis C Trust. ‘Just because you’re using drugs doesn’t mean you don’t have the right to treatment,’ the trust’s chief executive Charles Gore tells DDN, while outreach worker Philippe Bonnet describes his fight to open a consumption room in Birmingham, a city where more than half of injecting drug users are infected with the virus. Meanwhile, a government reshuffle sees Norman Baker controversially replace Jeremy Browne as crime prevention minister, ‘the most eye-catching, head-scratching ministerial appointment in Westminster history’, says the Independent’s Matthew Norman. 

November

As DDN celebrates its ninth anniversary, Mat Southwell and Lana Durjava describe how services can best engage with the diverse and ill-served population of ketamine users, while Alex Boyt remains unconvinced by recovery cheerleading. ‘For many, there is something disturbing and unattractive in trying to plaster optimism over the struggles of the often disadvantaged, traumatised and neglected,’ he writes. The second Adfam/DDN families event sees a day of passionate debate in Birmingham and delegates at DrugScope’s conference discuss ways to make the most of the new treatment and commissioning landscape. 

December

As an era-defining year for the sector draws to a close, plans are already well under way for Make it happen!, the seventh DDN user involvement conference. Make sure you don’t miss it.