Every Drug Strategy since John Major’s government has acknowledged that tackling drug dependence in isolation – without engaging with mental ill health, homelessness, offending, and lack of employment – is at best a job half done and has the potential to completely undermine the effectiveness of treatment.
Contrary to the dominant media narrative which sees drug “addiction” as the uniquely powerful disruptor of otherwise stable lives, the experience of the vast majority of drug users who need treatment is that they faced challenges with their mental health, the criminal justice system, poor educational outcomes, disrupted childhoods, and insecure accommodation, before they became dependent. Rather than these problems being a consequence of their dependence, they are more likely to be a key part of the reason why an individual’s drug use became problematic.
As Public Health England’s recent Evidence Review has demonstrated, the English treatment system has much to be proud of, and stands comparison with the best in the world. However PHE also acknowledges that failure to address the wider social disadvantage which underpins dependence and inhibits recovery is a continuing policy failure.
In recognition of this, Collective Voice has been working with the Home Office and PHE to ensure that the forthcoming drug strategy identifies a way to turn the rhetoric of its predecessors into meaningful action. In addition, Collective Voice has been active with colleagues in the homelessness, mental health, and criminal justice sectors as an associate member of the MEAM Coalition; seeking to influence policy on multiple disadvantage and in particular focusing on the 60,000 individuals who experience the most profound social disadvantage each year, most of whom have substance misuse problems.
In May, MEAM is bringing together practitioners from its four sectors to hold a summit over two days to identify how we can collectively organise to better deliver integrated services, which make a real difference, and gain political traction for multiple disadvantage. The event is called a “summit” to reflect MEAM’s commitment to grassroots experience and expertise, and consistent with this there will be opportunity for participants to shape the programme. Fifty spaces have been set aside for the substance misuse sector to ensure that our perspective is fully reflected at the event and in its outcomes.
The two day event will be 8-9 May in Milton Keynes at a heavily subsidised cost of £200 per person, including meals and accommodation for two days, and a daily rate of £75: . Notwithstanding the extreme pressure on budgets, participation in this event provides opportunity for the sector to contribute its unique perspective to a collective strategic attempt to address long-standing deficits in our treatment and recovery system. It would be a shame if the substance misuse sector failed to grasp this opportunity.