What’s the Government doing about drugs?

The Government Drug Strategy 2010

The coalition government’s main approach to tackling drug use and its associated problems are detailed in the Drug Strategy 2010 – Reducing Demand, Restricting Supply, Building Recovery: Supporting people to live a drug free life. As indicated by the title, the strategy targets three key themes for government drug policy – reducing demand by encouraging people not to use drugs, restricting supply of drugs by targeting criminal organisations producing, importing and distributing drugs, and helping people who are dependent on drugs into recovery. Some of the key measures identified for each of these three themes are as follows:

Reducing Demand

  • Providing good quality drug education and advice to help people ‘actively resist substance misuse’. This is to be delivered primarily by drug education in schools and through the FRANK drug information service.
  • Supporting vulnerable young people and families to reduce the risks of them becoming involved in drugs and alcohol. This is to be delivered by local authorities, funded by a new Early Intervention Grant and the Public Health Grant, and overseen by Directors of Public Health and Directors of Children’s Services.
  • Drug use by people involved in the criminal justice system is to be tackled through continuing to support Drug Rehabilitation Requirements, which allow courts to require people to seek drug treatment, and the Drug Interventions Programme, which aims to involve offenders in drug treatment. The strategy also states that ‘drug recovery wings’ will be piloted in prisons, integrating drug recovery services into prison wings.

Restricting Supply

  • A new National Crime Agency will be set up to lead on organised crime and tackle drug trafficking and supply, along with the UK Border Agency, who will focus on stopping drug imports from overseas. Tackling import and supply of heroin and cocaine are to remain key priorities, although these agencies will be made aware of ‘the changing drugs landscape’ and new drugs.
  • Police and Crime Commissioners, democratically elected in local areas, will drive policing priorities, and published Crime Maps will allow people to see how much and what type of crime is committed in their area.
  • Integrated Offender Management is intended to ensure different services work together to identify and manage priority offenders, including police, probation, youth services, and increasingly the voluntary and community sector and private providers.
  • More focus will be put on tackling internet sales of drugs, including ‘legal highs’, with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency using all the powers available to them under medicines legislation.
  • An increased effort to use money laundering prosecutions and asset-seizing powers to reduce the profitability of the drugs trade.
  • New attempts will be made to stop the trade in cutting agents, which are used to ‘bulk out’ drugs and increase profits.

Building Recovery in Communities

This section of the strategy details how drug treatment is to work in the new ‘locally-led’ system. The new Public Health England will absorb the functions of the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse, while local Directors of Public Health will take the commissioning and oversight of drug and alcohol treatment ‘as a core part of their work’.

The Government acknowledges that housing and employment are extremely important in tackling drug dependency, and the Supporting People Programme of housing support is to receive significant investment, while changes to the benefit programme and intended to support people into employment.

New approaches to funding drug treatment are to be tested, with six ‘Payment by Results’ pilot programmes to be introduced.

May 2012 Annual Review of the Drug Strategy

In May 2012, the Government published its first Drug Strategy 2010 – Annual Review. This review documents progress towards implementing the policies in the drug strategy, and also highlights a few policies not mentioned in the original drug strategy, including:

  • New proposals to develop drug driving offences and equipment for detecting drug driving.
  • FRANK to be further enhanced, starting with the piloting of web chat facilities.
  • Guidance on managing drug-related incidents in schools published by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO).
  • The Troubled Families Programme, overseen by the Department for Communities and Local Government, to receive £448 million investment.
  • Measures on New Psychoactive Substances (including ‘legal highs), including the publication by ACPO of comprehensive guidance for police, and efforts to include Trading Standards in enforcement.
  • Using temporary bans called Temporary Class Drug Orders (TCDOs) on newly emerging drugs, to limit supply and use while further legislation is considered – methotexamime and a new group of synthetic cannabinoids became the first drugs to be given TCDOs in 2012, followed by NBOMe and ‘Benzo Fury’ in 2013. Methotexamine and the synthetic cannabinoids were made class B following the expiry of their TCDOs.

The Government’s Public Health Reforms

DrugScope has published a briefing which details the effects of the coalition Government’s health reforms, The Public Health Reforms: What they mean for drug and alcohol services. Some of the key messages are:

  • From April 2013, local authorities have assumed lead responsibility for public health.
  • Directors of Public Health control the bulk of drug and alcohol treatment funding, and will be responsible for delivering outcomes from the local Health and Wellbeing Strategy.
  • Health and Wellbeing Strategies are in turn drawn up by Health and Wellbeing Boards, in every upper-tier local authority, based on their Joint Strategic Needs Assessment.
  • Health and Wellbeing Boards must include representatives from Clinical Commissioning Groups, who commission NHS services, as members. They must also include representatives from the local Healthwatch, which works to promote and champion the interests of patients and service users.
  • Meanwhile, national public health strategy- including drugs and alcohol- will be lead by Public Health England, who will provide information and guidance, raise awareness, conduct research, and train and develop the workforce. Public Health England will have 15 centres around the country.
  • Prison health services, including drug and alcohol treatment, are separate and are the responsibility of the NHS Commissioning Board.