Drug Addiction Debate

22nd November 2017

Philip Dunne responds to a Westminster Hall debate on the human and financial costs of drug addiction.​

 

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gapes. Thank you for protecting my 10 minutes at the end of the debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Craig Mackinlay) on securing the debate.

It has been noticeable that there is complete consensus among those who have contributed today about the horror and damage that drug abuse causes for individuals and wider society. Nobody, quite properly, has stood up here to say anything other than that. However, there is a noticeable difference in approach as to how to deal with some of these challenges. It is impressive that we had a consistent line from the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt) and the hon. Member for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan). They all called for a particular approach that the Government do not support. I shall focus most of my remarks on what the Government are actually doing.

The hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson), who speaks for the Opposition, was quick to criticise the support provided to drug abusers and she called for more action, but she did not come up with a single example that I could detect of what more could be done—[Interruption]—to provide any greater action, in response to the drug strategy that we published in July. I appreciate that she expressed some welcome for that strategy, but she did not indicate anything else that she said was missing that we should introduce.

We could always take over in government.

Order.

As I said, the Government published what we regard as an ambitious new drug strategy in July. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary compellingly set out in her foreword, the harms caused by drug misuse are far-reaching and affect lives at every level. I welcome the support of my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet for the strategy. My hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) also made a powerful contribution to the debate, focusing on differentiating enforcement action between the different categories of drug users. Although, of course, some of that is already in force in the sanctions available to our criminal justice system, the point that he makes in relation to identifying those who use criminality to fund their addiction is important.

Crime committed to fuel drug dependence is one of the biggest challenges that society has to contend with as a result of drug abuse. That extends into organised criminality in this country and internationally. From the perspective of the individual, the physical and mental health harms suffered by those who misuse drugs and the irreparable damage and loss to the families and individuals whose lives they destroy were eloquently expressed by the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden), who speaks for the Scottish National party. The constituent’s story that he told was harrowing. I think that we all share those concerns.

The drug strategy highlights the huge financial cost to society from illicit drugs. Each year, drugs cost the UK £10.7 billion in policing, healthcare and crime, with drug- fuelled theft alone costing £6 billion a year.

Will the Minister give way?

I am afraid not, because I have limited time.

As my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet pointed out, research shows that for every £1 spent on treatment, an estimated £2.50 is saved. It remains essential for us to offer those with a drug dependency the optimal chance of recovery. Since the 2010 strategy was published, we have made significant progress, despite the comments from the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West. She did acknowledge that drug use in England and Wales is lower now than it was a decade ago. In 2016-17, 8.5% of adults had used a drug in the previous year, compared with 10.1% of adults back in 2006-07. More adults are leaving treatment successfully now than in 2009-10, and the average waiting time to access treatment is now two days.

The new strategy aims to reduce illicit drug use and to increase the rate at which people recover from their dependence. Action is being taken in four areas: reducing demand to prevent drug use and its escalation; restricting the supply of illegal drugs; building recovery; and a new strand focused on global action. At the centre of the strategy is a core message: no one organisation or group can tackle drug misuse alone. As my hon. Friend pointed out, a partnership approach is required across Government and involving the treatment system, education, employment, housing, mental and physical health and the criminal justice system.

To drive forward the partnership approach, we are setting up a new board, chaired by the Home Secretary, which is due to meet for the first time next month. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health will attend, along with Ministers from across Government and wider partners, including Public Health England. The aim is to hold all parts of the system to account on specific commitments in the strategy. We are also appointing a new “recovery champion”, who will have a national leadership role with a remit to advise the Home Secretary and the board. That individual will drive collaboration across sectors and give people with drug dependency a voice to address the stigma that can prevent them from accessing the support that they need.

We will also take forward the drug strategy’s approach to prevention, because we know that we stand the best chance of preventing young people from misusing drugs by building their resilience and helping them to make good choices about their lives and their health. To achieve that, we will take forward evidence-based prevention measures, including developing the “Frank” drugs information service, to which my hon. Friend referred, so that it remains a credible and trusted source of information for young people. I note that the young people in the straw poll he did in his constituency had not heard of that service. I will ask officials to look at how we can raise awareness of that tool, but I point out gently to him that it is designed to be an information tool rather than a prevention tool in and of itself.

Other measures are promoting the online resilience-building resource, Rise Above, which helps teenagers to make positive choices for their health, and expanding the alcohol and drug education and prevention information service to give schools the tools and resources that they need to help to prevent drug misuse among teenagers.

The hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West mentioned funding. Funding decisions on drug and alcohol treatment budgets have been devolved to local authorities, which are best placed to understand the support and treatment needs of their populations because they differ across the country, as we have heard today. We know that there are concerns about funding, and that local authorities are making difficult choices about their spending; we are not shying away from that. That is why we are extending the ring-fenced public health grant until April 2019 and retaining the specific criteria to improve drug and alcohol treatment uptake and outcomes. Although the intention remains to give local authorities more control over the money that they raise—like with business rates—we are actively considering the options for 2019 onwards. We remain committed to protecting and improving the outcomes from core services, including in respect of substance misuse, and will involve stakeholders in discussions about how we achieve that.

We know that drug misuse is both a cause and a result of wider social issues. That is why we are testing ways to improve employment support for people in recovery. We have accepted Dame Carol Black’s recommendation that we trial an “individual placement and support” approach to help people in drug and alcohol treatment to prepare for, find and maintain employment. In that context, I would like to give a quick plug to an outstanding charity in my constituency called Willowdene Farm, which provides very successful residential rehabilitation and training centres, historically for adult men with a history of substance addiction; it has just opened a residential facility for adult women as well. It is leading the way in encouraging those who have been through its programme into employment. Public Health England announced yesterday that the trial will go live in April 2018 in seven areas: Birmingham, Blackpool, Brighton and Hove, Derbyshire, Haringey, Sheffield and Staffordshire.

I shall briefly go through some of the emerging challenges. Since 2012, we have seen sharp increases in drug misuse deaths linked to an ageing group of older heroin users with multiple and complex needs. In response to drug-related deaths, Public Health England is looking at how we protect people from dying of overdoses. It has published updated guidance for mental health and substance misuse treatment services, to help them to work better with people who have co-existing mental health, alcohol and drug problems.

In addition, local authorities must ensure that treatment services respond to the changing patterns of drug use. Treatment has been demonstrated to have a significant protective effect, without which the recent rise in drug-related deaths is likely to have been higher. Drug treatment can also cut crime. Recent analysis by the Ministry of Justice and Public Health England showed that 44% of people in treatment had not offended again two years after starting treatment. In recent months, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet, there have been deaths linked to fentanyl-contaminated heroin in parts of the UK. He gave us a graphic illustration of the impact in certain parts of the United States. I agree that that is extremely worrying. It underlines the importance of vigilance and strong enforcement action by the police and the National Crime Agency, as well as accessible treatment and the availability of life-saving interventions such as naloxone.

The use of synthetic cannabinoids, often called Spice, among the homeless and prison populations is a real concern for the Government. That was raised by a number of hon. Members. The Government have already taken action to classify third-generation synthetic cannabinoids, such as Spice, as class B drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, giving the police the powers that they need to take action, making possession illegal and delivering longer sentences for dealers.

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