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Drugs policy

Published Monday, July 17, 2017

This pack has been prepared ahead of the general debate on drugs policy to be held in the Commons Chamber on Tuesday 18 July 2017.

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The Home Office published its new drug strategy on 14 July 2017.[1]

The strategy draws attention to the rising number of drug misuse deaths:

In England and Wales, the number of deaths from drug misuse registered in 2015 increased by 10.3% to 2,479. This follows an increase of 14.9% in the previous year and 19.6% the year before that. Deaths involving heroin, which is involved in around half the deaths, more than doubled from 2012 to 2015.[2]

It also draws attention to the economic and social cost of crime:

Each year in the UK, drugs cost society £10.7 billion in policing, healthcare and crime, with drug-fuelled theft alone costing £6 billion a year. Research shows that for every £1 spent on treatment, an estimated £2.50 is saved.

In 2015/16, 2.7 million – over 8% – of 16-59-year-olds in England and Wales took illegal drugs. This is down from 10.5% a decade ago, but new threats are emerging including new psychoactive substances such as ‘spice’, image and performance enhancing drugs, ‘chemsex’ drugs and misuse of prescribed medicines.[3]

In her foreword, the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, confirms the strategy’s goals:

  • preventing people – particularly young people – from becoming drug users in the first place;
  • targeting those criminals seeking to profit from others’ misery and restricting the availability of drugs;
  • offering people with a drug dependence problem the best chance of recovery through support at every stage of their life; and
  • leading and driving action on a global scale.[4]

Saying that there is “much further to go”, the 2017 strategy also sets out how it will take forward the approach adopted in its predecessor, the 2010 drug strategy, with what it terms “new action”, based around

  • a smarter, coordinated partnership approach
  • enhancing the “balanced” response to reducing demand, restricting supply, building recovery and global action
  • expanding on the twin aims of reducing illicit drug use and increasing the rate of individuals recovering from their dependence
  • developing a new set of measures to foster what it terms “joint ownership” between the various agencies involved and
  • strengthening governance, with a Board chaired by the Home Secretary and a national Recovery Champion.[5]

Various new measures are promised:

  • Additional new action in the strategy includes improved measures to test the long-term success of treatment. As part of the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System (NDTMS), health services will now carry out additional checks to track the progress of those in recovery at 12 months, as well as after 6, to ensure they remain drug-free.
  • Building on the successful impact of the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016, a new NPS intelligence system will ensure the treatment response stays one step ahead of the criminals pushing newly invented substances onto British streets.
  • The system, being developed by Public Health England, will reduce the length of time between drug-related health harms emerging and effective treatment responses being prepared.
  • A network of medical experts will analyse data from a new pilot system (RIDR - Report Illicit Drug Reactions) designed to gather information about adverse reactions and harms caused by NPS and other drug use, to identify patterns and agree the best clinical responses.[6]

The Home Secretary was quoted in the press release accompanying the strategy as saying that the Government’s “tough law enforcement response” had to go hand in hand with prevention and recovery.  The Lead for Drugs at the National Police Chiefs Council said that the police would play their part:

The government has set out their new strategy for tackling the complex harms and issues associated with drugs and police will play our part in delivering it.[7]

A letter from Home Office minister Sarah Newton to the chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) in July 2017 sets out the thinking behind the Government’s new approach and how it has responded to views and concerns expressed by the ACMD.[8]

[1]     Home Office, Policy paper: Drug strategy 2017, 14 July 2017

[2]     As above: page 5

[3]     Home Office, Press release: New drug strategy to safeguard vulnerable and stop substance misuse, 14 July 2017

[4]     Home Office, Policy paper: Drug strategy 2017, 14 July 2017: page 2

[5]     Home Office, Policy paper: Drug strategy 2017, 14 July 2017:: page 5

[6]     Home Office, Press release: New drug strategy to safeguard vulnerable and stop substance misuse, 14 July 2017

[7]     As above

[8]     Sarah Newton MP to Dr Owen Bowden Jones, Re: ACMD response to the development of a new Drug Strategy, 11 July 2017.  The ACMD  makes recommendations to government on the control of dangerous or otherwise harmful drugs, including classification and scheduling under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and its regulations.

Commons Debate packs CDP-2017-0149

Authors: Sarah Barber; Gabrielle Garton Grimwood; Sally Lipscombe; Rachael Harker; Nikki Sutherland

Topics: Crime, Drugs misuse

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