Drugs Strategy

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:33 am on 9th November 2001.

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Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 9:33 am, 9th November 2001

We now at least have the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse. I hope that my hon. Friend accepts that it represents a potential major step forward. We are looking to it to increase the amount of expertise that we have on the issue of drugs. Many people who work in this sector have also advised us that, if we try to deal with drugs in isolation from alcohol, the potential for failure will be greater. Such issues need to be debated, and my hon. Friend has considerable expertise in the subject.

Research shows that for every £1 spent on treatment, £3 is saved in criminal justice expenditure as a result of reduced drugs use leading to reductions in crime. The challenge of breaking the link between drugs and crime is to identify drug users earlier in their drug-using career and to get them effective and appropriate help.

We have good evidence now that treatment can work and is cost effective in achieving a reduction in drugs use and related offending. It can also improve the health of drug users. We have developed a number of interventions in the criminal justice system to maximise engagement with drug misusing offenders. Our most recent intervention is the new drug testing powers introduced by the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000. That allows for the drug testing of persons aged 18 and over for specified class A drugs, such as heroin and crack cocaine, when they are charged with trigger offences such as property crime, robbery or class A drugs offences. It also provides for the probation supervision of offenders under drugs abstinence orders. The new powers are being piloted in three sites—Nottingham, Staffordshire and Hackney—until March 2003.

The annual increase of 8 per cent. in the number of people attending treatment services is encouraging. We established the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse in April this year to expand drug treatment services and to ensure the delivery of high-quality services across the country. At the point of arrest, arrest referral schemes seek to reduce drugs-related crime by encouraging problem users who are arrested to take up appropriate treatment. The schemes now cover 86 per cent. of all police custody suites across England and Wales.