MEAM, Agenda, AVA and Revolving Doors Agency respond to new government Drug Strategy

The MEAM coalition, Agenda, AVA and Revolving Doors Agency welcome the government’s new Drug Strategy published today, which provides an important political focus on people experiencing drug problems.

While there is much continuity with the previous strategy, it focuses on the complexity and range of needs that people experience alongside drug harms, and calls for a more collaborative approach. The strategy recognises the clear links between substance misuse and a range of other issues, particularly mental ill health, homelessness, interpersonal violence and contact with the criminal justice system.

Recognising complexity of need

It’s good to see a call for closer coordination between drug and alcohol treatment services and other key agencies in the homelessness, health care and employment sectors as well as the criminal justice system. This echoes the recommendation of last year’s expert inquiry into drug-related deaths for “a coordinated, whole-system approach to meet the complex needs of people who use drugs”.

We welcome the recognition that women who have experienced physical and sexual violence are more likely to misuse substances , and that there are specific risks faced by women involved in prostitution. As it implements the strategy we recommend the government seeks to understand the ways in which trauma impacts on substance use, and actively supports gender and trauma-informed responses.

There is also a much-needed commitment to provide more support to people involved in the criminal justice system who have drug problems, particularly through liaison and diversion and drug rehabilitation requirements.

Need for political commitment and resources

The strategy states that the government will set out “framework of joint measures, improving outcomes across key domains” including homelessness and housing, crime and offending, mental health and employment. If these are to drive action, it is crucial that they are designed carefully and in consultation with those that will be delivering these outcomes on the ground.

They must also be recognised across government, and the new Drug Strategy Board to be chaired by the Home Secretary could to play a key role here, securing political commitment for the strategy’s aims. We believe this Board should have senior representation from all the key departments, and seek to influence decisions about funding that will affect the ability to implement the strategy’s aims.

This is vital in the context of continuing reductions to local funding for drug and alcohol services. The government’s review of the 2010 drug strategy, also published today, provides evidence that spending on treatment is effective, with every £1 invested generating £2.50 of savings for society. However, it’s also important that treatment services are commissioned in a way that allows them to work effectively with other partners and make the most effective use of scarce resources.

Listening to lived experience

Finally, we warmly welcome the commitment to local areas involving service users in the design of the response to the strategy. The appointment of a national recovery champion is an opportunity to support this ambition, but there is real a danger of tokenism. The government must ensure this individual is given the support and backing they need to amplify the voices of other people with experience of substance misuse, particularly those with complex needs who may not currently be in treatment.

This strategy is a good starting point. Our organisations will continue to work closely with government, our members and partners, and people who have experienced substance misuse problems to ensure its ambitions are delivered.

Read further responses to the strategy from Agenda, Collective Voice and Revolving Doors.

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