Sarah Newton MP comments on the new drug strategy

The new drug strategy represents a ‘balanced approach’ to enforcement and support, says Sarah Newton, minister for crime, safeguarding and vulnerability.

The shocking pictures of people using ‘spice’ in Manchester earlier this year reminded us just how harmful and dangerous drugs can be. They can devastate whole families, and the communities around them – the same communities where we all live, work and bring up our children.

Tireless work goes on every day to provide treatment services to individuals suffering from substance misuse problems, but the challenges are constantly evolving.  ‘Spice’, like all synthetic cannabinoids, is part of a changing picture that also includes the rapid emergence of other psychoactive substances, image and performance enhancing drugs, ‘chemsex’ drugs, and misuse of prescription medicines. The pressing needs of an ageing cohort of heroin and crack cocaine users add to the problem.

As minister for crime, safeguarding and vulnerability it is my responsibility to ensure that we do everything we can to tackle illegal drugs. This government’s new drug strategy, launched today by the home secretary, is testimony to our commitment to protecting the most vulnerable in society from the harms drugs cause.

In the strategy, we continue to stress the importance of a tough law enforcement response, across the UK and at our borders, where record seizures have recently taken place. This government has ensured police forces continue to have the resources they need to keep our communities safe.

I know the police already do a great deal to prevent drug crime on our streets. On patrol with officers I have seen first hand the good work to stamp out anti-social behaviour and enforce the law, by testing people for substance abuse and taking appropriate action. Drug testing on arrest is an indispensable tool for the police to monitor new patterns around drugs and crime and provides an early opportunity to refer offenders into treatment and help prevent further reoffending.

Enforcement is just one element of our response and we remain determined to pursue a balanced approach and to achieve a society free from the harms of drugs. Our efforts must continue to focus on recovery and prevention.

Our strategy seeks to prevent drug misuse in the first place by building confidence and resilience in our young people through targeted interventions for those who are most at risk. For this reason I am particularly pleased that we are continuing to fund the Alcohol and Drug Education and Prevention Information Service (ADEPIS) programme to raise awareness in schools.

The strategy identifies those most vulnerable to ensure they receive the specialist support they need. For example, specific measures will be taken to protect those in prison. It is essential that drugs do not destroy the rehabilitation role of our prisons. Governors will have more powers to extend searches to prevent smuggling. Longer term, we want to focus on continuity of drug treatment, putting offenders on a path to recovery so that they can integrate in society when they are released.

Drug misuse is also common among people with mental health problems: research indicates that up to 70 per cent of people in community substance misuse treatment also experience mental illness and there is a high prevalence of drug use among those with severe and enduring conditions such as schizophrenia and personality disorders. In the strategy we acknowledge this and I want all those vulnerable to mental illness and drug misuse to be able to access the care they need.

Since I became a Minister I have had the opportunity to visit several recovery centres where former drug users are helped to turn their lives around. It was truly inspiring to meet so many people, both staff and service users, who clearly feel passionate about what they do.

The stories I have heard are powerful. I have met people whose lives had been filled with hardship, sometimes with violent abuse, and who had been exposed to drugs for too long. Yet by accessing the right support tailored to their needs, they regained hope and a lasting sense of purpose.

When I visited a recovery centre in Durham, I was particularly impressed by the initiative in place for service users who wished to give something back by becoming apprentices and later ambassadors in a peer-led system. Peer-led support works and I am confident more and more partners will replicate similar community-based models to improve treatment outcomes and challenge stigmatising views of drug users.

Crucially, the new strategy also sets out how we can, by bringing the right partners together, work towards sustaining recovery for all. This requires that we support those in need in all aspects of their new life free from drugs. The National Recovery Champion, together with Public Health England, will lead our response, making sure all partners across the country work towards our overarching goals: to reduce drug use, and boost recovery.

To get tangible results, we have created a Drug Strategy Board, which the home secretary will chair and I will attend. The Board will oversee the development of innovative joint measures so that all partners play their part in ensuring those in recovery can access stable employment or meaningful activity, safe housing, and overcome the mental health issues they may face. Multi-layered support is what we intend to continue developing so that vulnerable people and those most at risk of relapsing stay on the path to recovery.

Building on the success of the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016, we have worked to design a comprehensive plan that addresses the complex and evolving problems that continue to emerge from changing drug use habits. We will ensure clinicians benefit from the latest intelligence gathered by frontline specialists. This collaborative system driven by Public Health England will play a decisive role to keep on top of worrying patterns in drug use, and provide appropriate treatment interventions.

I am well aware that achieving the aims of the strategy will require strong and effective partnership working, at local, national and international levels.

In the lead-up to today’s launch, we consulted extensively with key partners working in the drugs field, including health and justice practitioners, commissioners, academics and service users, as well as our independent experts, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.

So I am confident that it will have the operational impact we want to see, because in a Britain that works for everyone, there is no place for drugs.

Click to read: The Drug Strategy 2017.

Please send your reactions to the new drug strategy to the DDN editor.

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