What’s the Government doing about drugs?

Recent developments

Government response to the independent review of drugs by Dame Carol Black (2021)
Released in late July 2021 the government set out its response to parts 1 and 2 of Dame Carol Black’s independent review of drugs ( see below).

Commitments include:

  • A new long-term drugs strategy published by the end of 2021.
  • A national outcomes framework.
  • A “combating drugs delivery board” to oversee the work of the Drugs Unit and to include representation from six key government departments, the Treasury, and No. 10.
  • A new drugs programme which will produce an annual report for Parliament, starting in 2022.
  • A local outcomes framework and a commissioning quality standard drafted “in consultation with the local system”.

Independent review of drugs part two: prevention, treatment, and recovery [Dame Carol Black report, part 2], 2021
This is Part 2 of Dame Carol Black’s independent review for government, setting out a way forward on drug treatment and recovery. Part 1 (below) laid bare the extent of the illicit drugs market in the UK, worth almost £10 billion a year, with 3 million users and a supply chain that has become increasingly violent and exploitative. This is explored further in Part 2, which concludes that the public provision we currently have for prevention, treatment and recovery is not fit for purpose, and urgently needs repair | DHSC, UK

January 2021 – Government announcement on fundingHome Secretary Priti Patel and Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced a £148 million new investment. The new approach, named Project ADDER, gives extra resources to law enforcement to dismantle organised criminal gangs and tackle the supply of drugs. £80 million will also be earmarked for drug treatment and recovery. While the increased funding for treatment has been broadly welcomed it has been seen as too little by many in the field.

Independent Review of drugs, part one: supply and demand [Dame Carol Black report, part 1] (2020) In February 2019, the Home Secretary appointed Professor Dame Carol Black to undertake an independent review of drugs. This was to inform the government’s thinking on what more can be done to tackle the harm that drugs cause. Dame Carol’s response to phase one of the commission provides an analysis of the challenges posed by drug supply and demand, including the ways in which drugs fuel violence.

Drug strategy 2017
The drug strategy 2017 sets out how the government and its partners, at local, national and international levels, will take new action to tackle drug misuse and the harms it causes | Home Office, UK

Here are the government’s stated aims from the strategy which was published on 14th July 2017:

Our ambition is for fewer people to use drugs in the first place, but for those that do – and who then experience problems – we want to help them to stop and to live a life free from
dependence. Our overall aims therefore remain to reduce all illicit and other harmful drug use, and increase the rate of individuals recovering from their dependence. But we
want to go further, and achieve our greater ambition both for progress against these aims as well as against a broader set of indicators which reflect the partnership approach that needs to be taken to tackle drug misuse and
its harms.
1. Reduce illicit and other harmful drug use

  • In addition to overall prevalence, we will measure frequency (e.g. monthly) and type of drug use (e.g. opiates and crack) to provide an additional perspective on
    some of the most problematic drug use.
  •  Where possible we will provide this data both at national and local levels in order to track progress and enhance local understanding and efforts to tackle drug

2. Increase the rates recovering from their dependence

  •  This is currently measured by the proportion of clients leaving treatment free from dependence and not returning for six months. We will go further and expand the measure to also capture those sustaining freedom from dependency for twelve months.
  • We will segment this data to provide an enhanced picture of the treatment population and track progress for those that evidence tells us10 we can expect higher recovery rates for (e.g. newer opiate users and non-opiate users).
  • We will provide a breakdown of what proportion of the most problematic drug users are accessing treatment and how long they have to wait in doing so, to ensure that we are reaching those who need support. Drug misuse causes a wide range of social and health harms and costs. It is both a cause and consequence of wider factors including
    physical and mental ill-health, problems relating to employment, housing, family life and crime issues.11 To reflect this we will track progress
    against a broader set of new jointly owned measures, which complement delivery of our two overarching aims. These will reflect the joint responsibilities of the range of partners needed including health, housing services, employment support providers and criminal justice partners.

Our approach:
Our approach is balanced over four key themes:

1 Reducing Demand 
We will take action to prevent the onset of drug use, and its escalation at all ages, through universal action combined with more targeted action for the most vulnerable. This includes placing a greater emphasis on building resilience and confidence among our young people to prevent the range of risks they face (e.g. drug and alcohol misuse, crime,
exploitation, unhealthy relationships).

2 Restricting Supply
We will take a smarter approach to restricting the supply of drugs: adapting our approach to reflect changes in criminal activity; using innovative data and technology; taking coordinated partnership action to tackle drugs alongside other criminal activity.

3 Building Recovery
We will raise our ambition for full recovery by improving both treatment quality and outcomes for different user groups; ensuring the right interventions are given to people
according to their needs; and facilitating the delivery of an enhanced joined-up approach to commissioning and the wide range of services that are essential to supporting every individual to live a life free from drugs.

4 Global Action
We will take a leading role in driving international action, spearheading new initiatives e.g. on new psychoactive substances, sharing best practice and promoting an evidence-based approach to preventing drug harms.

Responses to the strategy

Here are a selection of responses to the strategy:

Collective voice response to the 2017 Drug Strategy (PDF)
The Home Office has today published the government’s latest, and long-awaited, drug strategy. Collective Voice is very pleased to welcome the strategy as a serious and realistic platform which, if delivered, will improve society’s collective efforts to minimise the various harms flowing from illegal drug use. Our optimism is driven by four key aspects of the strategy | Collective Voice, UK

New Drugs Strategy puts prevention at its centre
The government’s new national drug strategy, published today, puts prevention “front and centre”, signalling a measurable shift towards evidence-based drugs education and away from ‘scare tactics’ | Mentor, UK

CGL response to the 2017 Drug Strategy
Change, grow, live (CGL) welcomes the new drug strategy introduced today by Amber Rudd. Since the 1990s the investment into, and delivery of treatment has increased significantly and we hope this will continue. This investment has contributed to many thousands of people receiving high quality treatment and recovering from their addictions. We have also seen huge reductions in drug related crimes and other harms | CGL, UK

UK Government’s New Drug Strategy is a ‘Shameful Ignoring of the Evidence’
The government claims that its new drug strategy represents a fresh approach to the challenges posed by illicit drugs. In reality, it is stuck in a time warp, fighting battles that were lost in the last century | Talking Drugs, UK

Also published in July 2017 was a review of the 2016 strategy and a review of the Psychoactive Substances Bill

Drug strategy 2016: development review
A review of the evidence on the 2016 drug strategy by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) | ACMD, UK


Psychoactive Substances Bill: evaluation review
An evaluation review of the Psychoactive Substances Bill by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) | ACMD, UK