On Monday, the government released their new 10-year strategy to tackle drugs – including record funding for drug treatment, along with significant increases to police funding to crack down on county line gangs.
Illegal drugs cost the taxpayer over £19 million annually, and almost half of burglaries and robberies in England are committed by heroin and cocaine addicts.
The government’s past drug strategies have focused almost entirely on increased investment in policing and harsher punitive measures, despite poor evidence to support the effectiveness of such policies. The new strategy promises to approach drug use as a “chronic health condition”.
Dame Carol Black, author of an independent review on drugs that was presented to the Government over the summer, said on BBC Radio 4’s World at One, when asked about the relative effectiveness of investing in treatment or policing, responded:
“I’m going to say treatment and recovery because as long as there’s demand, you will have supply. … If you really want to get to grips with drugs and crime, you’ve got to be able to offer people high quality treatment and recovery. … We know from research that that stops criminal activity. We know that if it’s high quality treatment, people stay in it and do better.”
The government’s new drug strategy includes £780 million for rebuilding drug treatment after it has seen a 17% decrease over the past four years. Funding will be given to every local authority in England to combat the misuse of drugs and alcohol.
The strategy makes the following promises;
- Increase and improve treatment services to reduce harm and improve recovery rates significantly.
- Improve offender drug treatment across the Prisons and Probation Service to get more offenders engaged in treatment, including mandatory and voluntary testing regimes in prison, support for prisoners to engage with community treatment and increase the use of intensive Drug Rehabilitation Requirements for those on community sentences.
- Increased housing support and access to treatment for those at risk of sleeping rough.
- Roll out individual employment support across all Local Authorities in England by 2025.
- Investment to implement employment support for those with a drug or alcohol addiction.
The strategy will also invest £300 million in the policing of drugs, with a focus on clamping down on the county line gangs involved in the supplying of drugs.
Regarding the strategy, Dame Carol Black said:
“I am delighted that the government is making this very significant investment in drug treatment and recovery services, alongside the funding allocated to tackle drug supply. The investment to improve housing support and employment opportunities is just as critical because people need hope, purpose and practical steps to help them achieve a better future.”
One of the more controversial aspects of the strategy is that it allows “in the most exceptional cases, the temporary removal of driving licences or passports” from those who have used illegal drugs.
Some argue that the strategy fails to go far enough, pointing to the recent successes of decriminalisation of drugs in Portugal.