The government should impose a “treatment tax” on the alcohol and gambling sectors and siphon off a larger slice of the monies seized by the state from the proceeds of crime to bolster treatment and recovery services for addicts, concludes a report* published today by the Centre for Social Justice.
The nation is facing an addiction crisis, with drug-related deaths the highest since records began in 1993, with a third of all drug deaths by overdose in Europe occurring in the UK.
Hospital admissions for alcohol misuse are up 15% since 2007, yet 17% fewer people are now being treated for alcohol misuse than just five years ago: today only one in five people with alcohol dependence are in treatment, says the report.
Figures from the charity GambleAware indicate that around two million adults suffer some level of harm related to gambling. But just 2% of the nearly 430,000 problem gamblers are in treatment.
“Addiction entrenches and accelerates disadvantage,” notes the report. But successive and pending budget cuts to addiction services have left addicts stranded, added to which services aren’t effectively funded and commissioned, with addicts facing a postcode lottery, it says.
And the services that are available aren’t targeted at helping people fully recover from dependence, it adds.
“Fewer young people and adults are finding their way into treatment and the UK maintains its inglorious position as one of Europe’s poorest performers in tackling addiction.”
The report suggests that the current approach needs to be overhauled and made more accountable.
“A successful system of care must achieve the objectives of achieving deliverable and acceptable national standards, equality of access to treatment, and stable long-term funding streams will achieve this,” it contends.
Funding should at least return to and then exceed 2012 levels, says the report, which recommends that the government should tap industry to pay for reform and bolster service provision.
It could raise a levy on the alcohol industry, which accounts for £25bn a year in societal costs, or simply raise duty levels. And it could use the provision in the Gambling Act, Section 123, to raise a levy on the gambling industry, which, last year recorded a £14.5bn annual Gross Gambling Yield, says the report.
And it should divert a larger amount of money attained by the state from the Proceeds of Crime seized from drug dealing to treatment and recovery services.
Meanwhile, the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) has responded to a Sunday Times investigation into rising numbers of opioid prescriptions alongside increasing death rates from oxycodone and fentanyl – as well as news that pharmaceutical company Johnson and Johnson is facing legal action for their role in the opioid crisis in the US.
RCGP chair, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, said: “The opioid situation in the UK is not simple but the NHS - particularly general practice – actually makes it quite difficult for patients to get repeated prescriptions for opioids in increasing doses, but unfortunately, they are too easily accessible illicitly – and GPs have little control over that.
“Oxycodone and fentanyl are some of the strongest opioid-based painkillers available, and GPs will only prescribe them with great caution after considering all physical, psychological and social factors potentially impacting on a patient’s health, and in line with current clinical guidelines.”
She added: “Opioids should be prescribed at the lowest possible dose for the shortest possible time. For some patients, these drugs are the only thing that helps ease their severe pain.
“There is a clear need for more high-quality research into pain, and more clinical guidelines for GPs and other healthcare professionals around treating pain, and using opioids - and it is welcome that NICE are developing these. We also need to see better-funded NHS services for people who do become addicted to opioids.”
Road to recovery. Addiction in our society: the case for reform. A report prepared by the Centre for Social Justice, August 2019.