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What’s in the 2021 drug strategy?
From harm to hope is the Government's 10 year drugs plan - but what's in it?

From harm to hope

The media has been full of stories briefed ahead of the new 10 year drug strategy published yesterday (6 December 2021) afternoon at about 4:45. The focus of these stories has been about middle class drug users losing their passports, a renewed focus on County Lines drug dealing and concerns that prison drug treatment will be on an abstinence/recovery basis only. The strategy is 67 pages long so I am going to adopt my usual approach and tackle each section in detail over a number of blog posts. This first post will summarise the key objectives of the plan.

The Context

The Prime Minister’s introduction is sui generis, as he might put it, and sound-bite heavy. The first sentence sets the tone:

“It’s that much harder to level up a community while criminals are dragging it down.”

His introduction makes the claim, disputed by many experts, that “heroin and crack addicts” are “are responsible for nearly half of all burglaries, robberies and other acquisitive crime”. Older readers may remember similar claims repeated in previous iterations of the drug strategy from a range of political parties; indeed there did seem a point in time about 25 years ago when even higher figures were bandied about. My main point is that, despite the arguments of the  drug field and many others over a long period of time, Government persists in seeing drugs as principally a criminal justice problem.

Beyond the rhetoric, the plan itself is more balanced with considerable investment in treatment, and commitments to both early intervention and drug education.  The plan is jointly presented by the Home Secretary, the Health Secretary and the Combating Drugs Minister (Kit Malthouse).  The paper promises almost £900 million of additional funding over the next three years which it will claims will deliver 54,500 more treatment places, prevent nearly 1,000 deaths, and close over 2,000 more county lines.

Primary objectives

There are three primary objectives which I will explore in more detail in subsequent posts:

  1. To break drug supply chains
  2. To deliver a world-class treatment and recovery system and 
  3. Achieve a generational shift in demand for drugs

In addition to chapters dedicated to each of these three areas, the 10 year plan has a chapter focused on a new system of national and local outcomes and a commitment to publish annual reports on the progress made by the strategy against its key targets.

The key strategic priorities are summarised in an infographic “our plan on a page” which is reproduced below.

Overview and approach

The plan starts by quoting a range of disturbing figures from Dame Carol Black’s two part Review of Drugs which lays bare the scale of drug-related crime, the lack of capacity in the treatment system and the fact that deprivation is intimately linked with higher levels of dependency and other health inequalities. You can see my series of posts summarising Dame Carol’s work in detail here.

The plan is clear that the initial priorities will be to “to combat the supply of heroin and crack cocaine, and … get those suffering from addiction the treatment and support they need.”

The strategy promises to meet the needs of people using all sorts of drugs including new psychoactive substances.  It also commits the government to do more to reduce non-dependent “so-called recreational drug use”. Interestingly, while those with dependency problems are promised more treatment and support, recreational users are threatened  with “a system of tougher penalties”. 

Unsurprisingly, the plan unequivocally rejects decriminalisation.

Importantly, the government does promise to deliver all Dame Carol’s key recommendations from part two of her review.

The government acknowledges that some Northern cities and seaside towns are disproportionately affected by multiple disadvantages and promises to invest in services in these areas first. The plan includes a map of England with the ten local authorities with the highest levels of use of opiates and crack cocaine which are (highest levels of use first):

  1. Middlesbrough
  2. Blackpool
  3. Hartlepool
  4. Blackburn with Darwen
  5. Hull
  6. Liverpool
  7. Bristol
  8. Wirral
  9. Bournemouth & 
  10. Stoke-on-Trent.

 

I will summarise the contents of the 10 year plan in more detail in a series of posts over the next couple of weeks, starting with the details of the work to “break drug supply chains”.

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