The newly released ten year drugs strategy sets out the Government’s plan to ‘cut crime and save lives’ with a two pronged approach that focuses on reducing the supply and demand for drugs, while delivering a high-quality treatment and recovery system.
Treatment, treatment, treatment
The Government’s £2.8 billion commitment to build a ‘world-class drug and alcohol treatment and recovery system’ is a significant and sustained investment in treatment capacity. The funding package will be distributed across England over a three year period, prioritising first areas that are disproportionately affected by multiple disadvantages. We are pleased to see this section of the strategy approach substance misuse through the prism of social disadvantage, and pledge investment for vital support services on issues closely interrelated with problematic drug use, such as physical and mental health, domestic abuse, housing and employment.
The funding will be used to create:
- £900 million for 54,500 more treatment places
- £533 million for local authorities to commission substance misuse treatment services and harm reduction interventions
- £293 million to implement the key recommendations made by Dame Carol Black to reduce harm, and improve recovery rates
- Funding to recruit, retain and train a skilled drug treatment workforce
This commitment is welcome, and reflects the seriousness of the task ahead in building capacity in the system. Though the devil will be in the detail of how and where this investment is spent, as the funding arrangements enable local authorities to decide which treatment services best meet the needs of their local population. Local commissioners should ensure that individuals are offered a range of treatments to meet their particular needs, including harm reduction interventions, as well as developing effective mechanisms that increase the uptake of voluntary engagement with services, as recommended by drug policy organisations.
The role of the justice system
Accessing drug treatment
The strategy outlines the Government’s plan to bolster the ability of the justice system to facilitate access to drug treatment. Some of the new measures include:
- Support for prisoners to engage with community treatment ahead of their release
- New coordinators to facilitate joint working between prisons, probation and treatment providers, in custody and the community.
- More use of community sentences with drug rehabilitation requirements
- New specialist drug workers to support community sentences drug treatment requirements
These commitments are underpinned by £120 million in funding to the Ministry of Justice.
There is compelling evidence that treatment for drug misuse can reduce re-offending, but one of the main tools to connect people in the justice system with treatment - Drug Rehabilitation Requirements - are not widely used. It is therefore welcome to see the drugs strategy committing to increase the use of drug rehabilitation requirements. To make this ambition a reality, it is important that the Government follows the lessons learned from the successful Community Sentence Treatment Requirement (CSTR) programme. For instance, dedicated resource will be required for judicial training and to cover other additional demands imposed by increased use of DRRs (such as on administrative and clinical capacity); and ensuring that plans for increasing their use build in sufficient time to allow for recruitment of key members of staff, establishment of crucial working relationships, and development of treatment capacity. (For more see our briefing on CSTRs).
We are pleased to see the strategy restate the £9 million awarded by the Government’s spending review to police forces to introduce or expand the use of early interventions, including in reformed statutory out of court disposals (OOCDs). Early interventions are an important tool for promptly dealing with low-level offending without recourse to the courts. Many existing early interventions schemes, especially those using community resolutions and other non-statutory disposals, are police-led, and operate in a variety of different models cross the country, allowing people in possession of small quantities of illegal drugs an opportunity to access tailored support without being prosecuted.
Evidence from the UK and globally shows that these early intervention schemes can deliver a wide range of benefits such as reduced reoffending, reduced costs to the police, improved physical and mental health, and social and employment circumstances of participants. Key to realising these benefits is to target them, based on the individual’s assessed need and risk, and to avoid ‘overdosing’ individuals with overly intensive interventions, as research has shown this can backfire and lead to greater reoffending.
Problem solving courts
We are extremely pleased to see the strategy reaffirm the Government’s commitment to piloting a substance misuse court, which was first announced in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill earlier this year. There is a robust and extensive international evidence base that this court model is effective at reducing reoffending and drug and alcohol misuse. We previously wrote a guide on how the Government can provide the pilots the best chance of success and sustainability.