Our drug treatment system doesn’t work
A recent (17 August 2014) publication from the Centre for Social Justice – Ambitious for Recovery – is typical of the Think Tank which was formed by Iain Duncan Smith in 2004. It combines a rigorous critique of the government’s drug and alcohol strategy with a set of wide-ranging recommendations linked to IDS’ personal philosophy.
Facts and figures
The 102 page report looks at the latest treatment data in some detail and highlights the following key facts:
- 300,000 people in England are addicted to opiates and/or crack,
- 1.6 million are dependent on alcohol and
- One in seven children under the age of one live with a substance-abusing parent.
The report calculates that every year drugs cost society around £15 billion and alcohol £21 billion.
Criticism of the treatment system
The report is engagingly direct in its criticisms of our drug treatment centre, saying that is still too focused on maintaining dependent users on methadone and other substitute drugs and failing to help them sustain recovery and life productive lives. It claims: “For years full recovery has been the preserve of the wealthy – closed off to the poorest people and to those with problems who need to rely on a public system.”
In terms of criminal justice, the report calls for the adoption of the US “Swift and Certain Sanctions Approach” which would mean that offenders testing positive for drugs while on a drug rehabilitation requirement would receive an immediate short prison sentence before rejoining court-ordered treatment.
CSJ also (and in my experience quite fairly) takes issue with the Government’s flagship drug and alcohol prevention programme, FRANK, which it describes as ‘shamefully inadequate’, noting that a recent survey found that only one in ten children would call the helpline to talk about drugs.
The report also emphasises the growth of new drugs (legal highs or novel psychoactive substances) and warns that, on current trends, there could be more deaths related to these substances than to heroin by 2016.
Unsurprsingly for a CSJ report, the recommendations are wide-ranging and robust. They include:
- New powers to make it easier to close down “head shops”
- More resources to clamp down on online sales of legal highs
- A ‘treatment tax’ added to off-licence alcohol sales to fund rehab for people with alcohol and drug addictions. Under the scheme, a levy of a penny per unit would be added by the end of the next Parliament to fund recovery services to the tune of £1.1billion over the five years.
The proceeds from this treatment tax would be used to fund a network of abstinence based rehabilitation centres. Once these rehab units are in place, it’s not surprising to read that Ian Duncan Smith’s Think Tank recommends that:
- Drug and alcohol users who don’t “address their addiction” will have their benefits cut and
- The introduction of a ‘welfare card’ where a proportion of benefits would have to be spent on essentials like food, clothing and travel. This would apply to alcohol or drug addicts with dependent children who refuse treatment and who have not been in work for a year.
One of the intriguing aspects of the drug recovery movement is the way it attracts equally committed support from both wings of the political spectrum.
I’m very interested in your views – do you think this sort of levy approach would work in the UK? To my mind, it’s the sort of approach that the Scottish Parliament or Welsh Assembly might consider adopting.