New unit and more social workers needed to tackle drug misuse, says major review
A new cross-Government unit aims to end illegal drug-related illness and deaths as a new report finds that drug addiction fuels many costly social problems, including homelessness and rising demands on children’s social care.
A new drugs unit will be set up to help end illegal drug-related illness and deaths, the Government has announced.
The announcement comes as Professor Dame Carol Black this week publishes the second part of her Independent Review of Drugs, which set out more than 30 recommendations to Government to help overcome the harm drugs have caused to individuals, families and communities across the country.
The report calls for significant investment in the drug treatment and recovery system so that more people can get the support they need.
There are currently an estimated 300,000 opiate or crack users in England, and around one million people using cocaine per year, with drug poisoning deaths at a record high having increased by nearly 80% since 2012.
The Joint Combating Drugs Unit will bring together multiple government departments – including the Department of Health and Social Care, Department for Education, Home Office, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, Department for Work and Pensions, and Ministry of Justice – to help tackle drugs misuse across society.
The Government says the joint approach recognises that treatment alone is not enough and wider support, including with housing and employment, is essential to aid recovery.
Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said tackling the issue “requires strong collaboration” across Government.
“We will look closely at these recommendations and publish an initial response shortly on the urgent action we can take to turn the tide on drug-related deaths and get more people access to higher quality services.”
The review recommends the government must work together to improve treatment, employment, housing support and the way people with addictions are treated in the criminal justice system. It recommends addiction be recognised as a chronic health condition, requiring long-term follow up.
The report says there’s an urgent need to reinforce the treatment workforce to raise standards and restore morale, while national leadership needs to be strengthened to reduce supply and help people get off and stay off drugs.
“Drug deaths are at an all-time high and drug addiction fuels many costly social problems, including homelessness and rising demands on children’s social care,” Professor Dame Carol Black said.
“The Government faces an unavoidable choice: invest in tackling the problem or keep paying for the consequences. A whole-system approach is needed and this part of my review offers concrete proposals, deliverable within this parliament, to achieve this.”
There are 32 recommendations made in the report, including that the Government invests more in treatment and recovery support, and appoints a single, responsible minister on drug policy to hold the government to account.
Rosanna O’ Connor, Director of Drugs, Alcohol, Tobacco and Justice at Public Health England, welcomed Dame Carol Black’s recommendation for increased funding that is protected and prioritised for treatment and recovery services.
“Drug treatment services save lives and help many people recover from drug dependence, improving not only their lives but those of their families, their communities and wider society. We know treatment works and so it’s essential that everyone can easily get the treatment they need.”
Other recommendations include commissioning a new strategy to increase the number of professionally qualified drug treatment staff including psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, nurses and social workers, and developing and implementing an action plan to improve mental health treatment of people with drug dependence.
Professor Dame Black recommends “significantly increasing the funding for drug treatment and wider support” and reversing the recent disinvestment in treatment and recovery services. On current estimates of prevalence, in order to provide a full range of high-quality treatment and recovery she warns that £119 million is needed on top of the current expenditure in year one, rising to £552 million in year 5 of her five-year plan.
The additional investment is said to be “urgently needed” to expand the number of professionally qualified workers, and provide increased treatment capacity to meet need, including to respond to newer non-opiate patterns of drug use, and to expand and improve services for children and young people.
The report found this sustained divestment meant dedicated social work teams for drugs and alcohol are “disappearing”.
“The drug treatment and recovery workforce has deteriorated significantly in quantity, quality and morale in recent years, due to excessive caseloads, decreased training and lack of clinical supervision,” the report read.
“The only effective treatments for people dependent on non-opioid drugs are psychosocial interventions including cognitive behavioural therapy, yet people with professional skills in these areas are in very short supply.”
Mark Moody, Chief Executive of Change Grow Live, a voluntary sector organisation specialising in substance misuse, said Dame Black was right that urgent change was needed.
“The current situation is intolerable and the people who use our services, the communities they live in, and ultimately the whole country pay the price.
“As stated in the review, for every £1 spent on treatment, we save £4 on costs of other services.
“We have the evidence about what gets people into treatment, what keeps them there and what works in the long-term. A new strategy is urgently needed to put this into practice everywhere in the UK.”
Read the full report from Professor Dame Carol Black: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/review-of-drugs-phase-two-report/review-of-drugs-part-two-prevention-treatment-and-recovery
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