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Government refreshes plans to cut illicit drug use and addiction

‘Recovery champion,’ additional health checks, and smarter data use all feature

Caroline White

Friday, 14 July 2017

The Home Office is set to appoint a new national recovery champion to support recovering drug addicts to turn their lives around by making sure they have access to adequate housing, employment, and mental health services, under plans announced today to cut illicit drug use and boost the number of people who get clean.

And health services will be expected to carry out additional checks to track the progress of those in recovery at 12 months, as well as after six, to ensure they remain drug-free, as part of the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System (NDTMS).

Illicit drug use costs the UK £10.7 billion a year in policing, healthcare, and crime, with drug-fuelled theft alone costing £6 billion a year. Research shows that for every £1 invested in treatment, an estimated £2.50 is saved.

In 2015-16, 2.7 million – over 8% – of 16-59-year-olds in England and Wales took illegal drugs.

Although down from 10.5% a decade ago, there has been a sharp rise in the number of people dying as a result of their addiction, with the emergence of new powerful substances such as ‘spice’, image and performance enhancing drugs, ‘chemsex’ drugs and misuse of prescribed medicines. Deaths have risen by 40% in the three years to 2016.

The new strategy aims to protect the most vulnerable, including the homeless, victims of domestic abuse, and those with mental health issues by bringing  together the police, health and local partners.

The strategy includes measures to curb demand by expanding the Alcohol and Drugs Education and Prevention Information Service for young people and restrict supply: by pursuing a strong law enforcement response and dismantling trafficking networks.

And it sets out action to strengthen border controls, understand global trends and share intelligence, using innovative data and technology.

A new psychoactive substances (NPS) intelligence system, which is being developed by Public Health England, will cut the length of time between the emergence of drug-related health harms and effective treatment responses.

A network of medical experts will also analyse data from a new pilot system (Report Illicit Drug Reactions or RIDR) designed to gather information about adverse reactions and harms caused by NPS and other drug use, to identify patterns and agree the best clinical responses.

Paul Hayes, chief executive of the Collective Voice, said: “The government’s recognition that evidence based treatment, recovery, and harm reduction services need to be at the heart of our collective response to drug misuse is very welcome.

“Investment in treatment has reduced levels of drug use, cut drug-related crime, enabled tens of thousands of individuals to overcome dependence, and is crucial in combating the recent increase in drug-related deaths.”

Home secretary Amber Rudd said: “This government has driven a tough law enforcement response in the UK and at our borders, but this must go hand in hand with prevention and recovery.”

She will chair a new cross-government Drug Strategy Board, to drive implementation of the new strategy.

The strategy, the first in seven years, comes with no new money attached, and speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme this morning, Harry Shapiro, director of the online drug information service, Drugwise, doubted that local authorities would have sufficient funds to deliver it.

The plans “all have to be delivered at the local level when local authorities are struggling with their budgets, so it’s going to be hard to deliver,” he suggested.

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