Over the last few days, the Scottish government and the UK government have hosted summits with the aim of identifying solutions to the public health emergency that has seen drug-related deaths reach an all-time high. The latest statistics from the ONS (Office for National Statistics) saw deaths up by 16% from the previous year, to 4359 deaths in England and Wales, the highest since records began. Drug-related deaths are preventable if the right support is available.
We welcome the release of the Dame Carol Black Report into Drug Policy but it makes for troubling reading.
We are hopeful that Dame Carol’s report, and the summits, mark a sea change in which the UK government will swiftly begin to increase funding to reduce drug-related harm and improve people’s chances of recovery.
· The government should explore all possible drug policy reform options, including decriminalisation and drug consumption rooms, focusing on the evidence of what works on a local and national scale and be prepared to be brave and radical in the changes that need to be made.
· A conversation on drug policy reform cannot be isolated from the question of improved funding for treatment. The UK government must reverse the significant funding cuts which have seen drug and alcohol treatment funding cut by 18% since 2013/14. There needs to be greater investment in services and in a range of prevention and treatment interventions, including heroin-assisted treatment and the wider distribution of Naloxone.
· The government must prioritise investment into wider services, including residential rehabilitation, young people and family services, housing support and diversion schemes. There is always a bigger picture to look at with drug use, and without support in other areas of their lives, people may not have the best chance of recovery. Increased partnership working across health and housing services and the police, including mental health support, will enable us to take a “whole-person” approach to treatment.
· The UK government should ensure there is an open dialogue with service providers, experts and those with lived experience in order to stem and reverse the current upward trend in deaths. We know what works and there is a strong evidence base, which needs to be followed in local communities, towns and cities, and at a national level.
· The government should focus on harm reduction and prevention, acknowledging there are many contributing factors to why people take drugs, including poverty and trauma. The stigmatisation of people who use drugs prevents those who are most vulnerable from getting the support they desperately need and deserve. This must be challenged.