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A joint response to the new Drugs Strategy

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Today’s announcement shows the Government is serious about righting the wrong of nearly a decade of disinvestment in England’s drug treatment system. We are proud to have worked together to consistently call for this change which has the potential to change the lives of thousands of people and their families.

As a society we now have a serious chance to transform our treatment and recovery system by implementing the recommendations of Dame Carol Black’s policy programme and reducing drug harms and deaths. As organisations we pledge to play our part, working together in line with the evidence to shape a system that delivers person-centred care to all who need it.

The need for this fresh investment cannot be overstated. The last decade has seen a staggering 60.9% increase in drug related deaths, leaving thousands of bereft family members and friends to deal with a bereavement society is unlikely ever to validate. Local government public health funding has been slashed at a time when it was most needed, against a backdrop of erosion of other vital public services.

Dame Carol Black’s vision

Dame Carol Black has presented us with a vision, and a plan, for renewing our treatment and recovery system. We welcome the new Drugs Strategy’s strong endorsement of the Black Review and the importance of a ‘whole system approach’ which implements all its key recommendations.  

£533million has been committed over the next three years to community treatment and recovery, with an additional £115million to support people with housing and employment needs. £120m will also support people leaving prison and those serving community sentences. At a time of external financial challenges this level of investment is to be hugely welcomed, and the place-based focusing of resource on local areas with particularly high levels of challenge is appropriate.

Collaboration and accountability

Collaboration and accountability across the whole system must be modelled at the centre of government. And by adopting Dame Carol’s recommendations to create a cross-government unit and deliver a cross-government strategy alongside a robust settlement, the foundations for the necessary change have been laid. The accountability section in the Strategy builds on these and should provide a meaningful framework for tracking progress.

Balance within the system

A renewed system must balance interventions reducing immediate harms with those focused on longer term behaviour change. The Strategy is therefore right to focus on ‘the full range of evidence-based treatment interventions’ and include ‘reducing drug-related deaths and harm’ as one of its three top line metrics. The focus on strengthening the skills and professional mix of the workforce is essential in achieving this aim, together with the commitment to increasing workforce capacity.

We know that the transitions points between treatment and allied systems are often where people ‘fall through the gaps’. It is therefore reassuring to see a focus on prison leavers, the possibilities of closer commissioning with mental health services, support for people experiencing multiple disadvantage, and recognition of the importance of people with lived experience as community connectors.

Families and carers need and deserve support in their own right – and will continue to play an essential role in supporting loved ones into and through recovery. We hope, then, that family support will be considered a legitimate intervention for funding.

Recovery Communities led by people with their own experiences of addiction offer an effective and authentic ‘front door’ into our system and we therefore welcome specific mention of them as part of  a wraparound, peer-based social support model.

Ensuring people enter treatment and recovery

Addiction is a social issue underpinned by the toxic combination of poverty, exclusion and trauma. Clearly there is much to welcome in the treatment and recovery strand of the Strategy, and we particularly appreciate its commitment to reduce the stigma attached to addiction.

The ‘tough on crime’ narrative, though, runs the serious risk of stigmatising people who need help and support, not additional condemnation and punishment. Stigma harms people, prevents them asking for help and can worsen the help that is provided. We suggest that public policy in this area should be articulated in ‘person first’ language and avoid stigmatising terms. Human beings need help, not labels and categorisation.

Chris Lee, Chair English Substance Use Commissioners Group
Danny Hames, Chair NHS Addiction Providers Alliance

Kate Halliday, Executive Director Addictions Professionals
Oliver Standing, Director Collective Voice
Stuart Green, Recovery Connectors Group, College of Lived Experience Recovery Organisations (CLERO)
Vivienne Evans, Chief Executive Adfam

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Collective Voice is the national charity working to improve England’s drug and alcohol treatment and recovery systems