It is still not clear to any of us what has happened to the expected Drug Strategy which we originally thought would land before Christmas – but we hope that it will arrive soon.
So in advance of its publication (and in expectation that it’s been written already so I can’t be accused of lobbying) here is what I hope will be contained:
There will be a recognition of the considerable progress that has been made since the late 1990’s – a relatively short period of time in which investment into and delivery of treatment has been transformed. There will also be an explicit recognition that the issues that draw people into problematic substance misuse are complex and therefore require broad, nuanced interventions that are rooted in evidence.
There will be renewed focus upon alcohol use and the harms it causes.
The new strategy will hopefully promote a balanced response at local levels – where harm reduction and reducing drug related deaths sit alongside recovery and abstinence. And which recognises that effective treatment promotes public health whilst contributing to significant reductions in crime. It will emphasise a balanced requirement to meet the needs of ‘older’ substance users whilst being nimble enough to flexibly and creatively respond to emerging patterns of use and the needs of those not engaging in treatment.
There will be an explicit recognition that substance misuse - if it is to be tackled - requires a response that spans Government Ministries and Local Government Departments impacting upon: health, justice, housing, employment and children’s services to name but a few. It will stress the importance of protecting investment from across these departments in order to be delivered effectively.
The needs of children and families will therefore be centre stage.
It will reinforce a commitment to evidence based treatment being the driving force of the strategy whilst recognising the capabilities that reside within statutory, third sector and peer lead organisations as partners.
None of this seems unreasonable or beyond our reach. What is absolutely essential of course that any positive words and requirements are supported with investment. Many of our service users are at the sharp end of austerity and welfare cuts and are correspondingly seeing the services they rely upon being placed under sometimes intolerable financial pressures. Investment into treatment and services must be protected if we are to build upon the gains made over the last twenty years, address the tragedy of rising deaths and being able to give everyone the best chance in life.