I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the human and financial costs of drug addiction.
This is an expansive subject, with a huge number of facets, and is covered by a huge amount of UK and international data. Pleasingly, two Members raised drugs issues at Prime Minister’s questions today. They probably sought to steer us towards their views about liberalisation and legalisation, which I must say are somewhat the opposite of mine.
I thank the Minister for being here to respond to the debate. This issue cuts across many Departments. It is not just a health issue; it cuts across policing, justice and home affairs, health, border matters and education, and it is even an issue for the Treasury. I thank the many organisations that supplied data and their interpretations in advance of this wide-ranging debate, including the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Release and the House of Commons Library, which has considered data from a huge variety of sources.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. He talks about data. Does he agree that the information from the Library about the increase in male mortality from drug misuse, particularly in the past five years, is alarming and demonstrates the urgent need not only for this debate but for action to be taken after it?
The hon. Gentleman highlights one of the key tenets of my speech. I am most concerned about death rates.
I thank the Library for its diligent service; it is an invaluable source of information. I also received information from Smart Approaches to Marijuana, or SAM, a US agency that has done a lot of work on how decriminalisation of cannabis in particular has affected various states in the United States. I consulted papers by the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse and by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, and the National Audit Office evaluation of the Government’s 2010 drugs strategy, which is a seven-yearly document. I also consulted the Government’s July 2017 drugs strategy.
The real trigger for me calling this debate was the rising death toll in the USA due to the use of opioids and their derivatives—notably fentanyl, with which I am sure many hon. Members are familiar—whether they are legally obtained or illicitly produced. Some 64,000 drug-related deaths were recorded in the US in 2016, an increase of just over 21% from the year before. There was a 33% rise in one year in the state of Ohio alone. There were 4,050 deaths in Ohio, which has a population of just 12 million. To give Members an idea of scale, the entire US military losses over the 20 years of the Vietnam war were a fraction under 60,000. Scaled up to the UK population, Ohio’s current death rate would represent 22,000 deaths in the UK each year. Thankfully, the figure here is lower; according to the last reported data, there were 2,677 deaths in 2015.
Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern that Wales is disproportionately represented? Wales’s population is 5% of the United Kingdom’s, but 10% of those drugs deaths took place in Wales. Will he join me in asking the Minister whether changes to UK legislation are needed to allow devolved Governments to introduce harm-reducing measures, such as safe injecting facilities, in areas with a high concentration of injecting drug users, such as Wrexham?
My concerns are somewhat summed up by that old adage, which is normally used in relation to financial markets: when the US sneezes, the UK catches a cold. I am concerned that we may be on the brink of a fentanyl epidemic here in the UK. I want to highlight both the human costs and the financial costs of drug addiction to the UK economy and to the people of this country.
The human costs are fairly obvious. Everyone will have their own points to add to this list, but they include: physical and mental health issues; disruption to families; the effects on children and their life chances, including the increasingly clear link between drug use during pregnancy and various autism spectrum conditions and physical deformities in children; the obvious spread of disease; the often desperate measures that people take to try to raise cash, resulting in prostitution and all manner of human degradation; forgone opportunities and the essence of all that someone could be in life being extinguished; and, of course, premature death.
The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the fact that our drugs policy in this country is failing. Does he not think that now might be the time for a shift in drugs policy and for us to focus not on criminalisation but on care and health? Should that not be the focus of our drugs policy?
The hon. Gentleman is right. I have an expansive speech to make, which I think will cover all the issues well. Perhaps he would like to come back in with those points later.
I chair the all-party group on the harmful effects of cannabis on developing brains and have a long interest in that topic. The APPG’s principal aim is to raise awareness of the continued and growing danger to children, teenagers and their families of cannabis use in particular but also of wider drug use. I will publish a detailed paper on that subject later. The effects of the early use of skunk cannabis on youngsters’ mental health are increasingly recognised, as is the additional human cost of the significant rise in other effects, such as traffic-related deaths, in some of the US states that have gone down the route of decriminalisation.
I do not just take an abstract, desk-based approach to this topic. I have been a magistrate in Kent for 12 years. For too long, I have seen people go through the same revolving door of committing crimes, coming to court and going to prison. The same drug-related issues come up time and again. On one occasion, someone’s appearance in court arose from offences committed on the day of their release from a custodial sentence. That revolving door has to stop. Too often, I have seen youngsters in their late teens or early 20s who are on employment and support allowance or similar disability benefits and are incapable of holding down work brought to court after bouts of acquisitive crime. Nearly all of them are on long-term anti-psychotic drugs to deal with schizophrenia and bipolar disorders. In my experience, practically every one of those people gives the same mitigation in court: “I’ve had a long-term addiction to cannabis from an early age”—often from the age of 13.
The 2014 NHS National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse paper was particularly useful in advance of this debate. It highlights that there are 306,000 heroin and crack users in England, with disproportionate heroin and crack use in lower income areas compared with wealthier parts of the country. Drug use and poverty are linked. More than 1 million people are affected by family members’ or friends’ links to drug addiction. The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs found a substantial increase in the number of people dying from drugs in the UK in recent years. That is mainly down to opioid substances, which, as I mentioned, caused 2,677 deaths in 2015. Opioid-related deaths have increased year on year. A massive increase in the 1990s followed a marked increase in heroin use. Thankfully, the number of deaths flattened and declined in the late 1990s and early 2000s—that was often put down to lower grade and more highly cut heroin being sold—but it has risen markedly since 2004.
Let me move on to fentanyl and various synthetic opioids, which are cited as the reason for the increase in deaths in the US. Fentanyl is a fairly normal pharmaceutical product. It is widely used, often in operations. It was first created in the early 1960s as a pain management drug, and it is very effective at that. It has a fairly easy formulation, but illicit supply increasingly comes from China, hence its street name of China white.
The epidemic of drug overdoses in America is killing people at almost double the rate of both firearm and motor vehicle-related deaths. Between 1999 and 2015, it is estimated that fentanyl and derivatives killed about 300,000 people in the US—the numbers are of virtually biblical proportions.
We regularly hear the argument for legalisation of cannabis, with those demands often coming from our Liberal Democrat friends—I see Norman Lamb in his place. Let us examine a real case study. In November 2012, Colorado and Washington states voted to legalise the private use of marijuana. In those two states, marijuana use exceeds the US national average, and use has risen significantly post-legalisation—more rapidly than in states where it is still illegal. We have also seen increases in teen arrests, accidental ingestion by children, marijuana-related poisoning, teenage admissions to treatment, and crime.
According to the Associated Press:
“In Washington, the black market has exploded since voters legalized marijuana…with scores of legally dubious…dispensaries opening and some pot delivery services brazenly advertising that they sell outside the legal system.”
Rather than putting a lid on matters, legalisation has taken the lid off. Marijuana-related traffic deaths—where a driver tested positive—have more than doubled, from 55 in 2012 to 123 in 2016, and there has been a 72% increase in marijuana-related hospitalisations since legalisation.
With that backdrop, let us look at the UK. The Library suggests that drug misuse in England and Wales has fallen in the past decade. That has got to be good news. However, I view some of those figures with a little scepticism; I will refer to such matters later on. Of course, 95% of heroin on the streets originates from Afghanistan, and cocaine invariably comes from Peru, Colombia and Bolivia; it is not manufactured in the UK. For that reason, I very much hope that as we leave the European Union and exercise more diligent control of our borders, we will be able to implement a more rigorous approach to border security, particularly on the smuggling of drugs.
The number of people in drug addiction treatment in the UK is at just a little under 300,000, with opiate dependency involved in more than 52% of cases. More than 100,000 under-18s are living with people in drug treatment. Those are some of the human costs. What are the financial costs?
I thank my hon. Friend for introducing the debate. Before he moves on to financial costs, will he say something about another side of the human cost—the extent to which prisoners are taking drugs and the efforts being made to try to stop that in prisons?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. We in the judiciary often feel that we put people in prison as a last resort and hope that that is a place where they may seek relief from drugs and get the treatment they need. However, all too often we hear of many examples where that is far from the case.
I want to mention the financial cost, because it is hugely relevant to our economy. Figures I have put together suggest that the financial cost now amounts to a fairly reasonable chunk of our annual deficit. It is very difficult to pull figures together, but one that I have derived from headline data is £20.3 billion a year. That does not include some of the more unknown and abstract costs, such as opportunity costs of lost economic output from a potential workforce that is economically inactive due to drug dependency and the physical and mental effects of drug use.
To break the figure down, drug-related crime is estimated at just a fraction under £14 billion a year. The cost to the NHS in ongoing health issues resulting from drug addiction is £0.5 billion. The benefits and treatment cost is estimated at £3.6 billion—£1.7 billion in direct benefits, £1.2 billion in the cost of looked-after children of drug addicts, and £0.7 billion in addiction treatments such as methadone and Subutex. The cost to the courts, the Prison Service and the police in 2014-15 was £1.6 billion. An addicted person not in treatment and committing crime costs on average £26,074 a year. A somewhat dated Daily Telegraph report shows that a problem drug user could cost the state £843,000 over their lifetime—and that was in 2008.
Some of the other human costs are obvious, such as depression, anxiety, psychosis and personality disorders. Some 70% of those in drug treatment suffer from mental health problems. We might ask which follows which, but I think there is a clear link between drug use and psychotic episodes. Cardiovascular disease is also an issue after a lifetime of drug misuse. Muscular and skeletal damage are commonplace among injecting drug users. Lung damage following the smoking of various drugs and derivatives is also prevalent. Poor vein health and deep vein thrombosis is common among injectors. Then there is liver damage, which is expensive to treat, with hepatitis C causing cirrhosis, liver failure, liver cancer and death.
Deaths can come in many forms, including through accidents, suicides, assaults and simple overdose, as well as misadventure from drug poisoning, and drug abuse and drug dependence. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that in 2016 the highest number of deaths was put down to illegal drug use since records began in 1993. That fact is worth bringing to the table. Fewer than 1% of all adults in the UK are using heroin, but about 1% of heroin addicts die each year—10 times the equivalent death rate of the general population—and those deaths are predominantly from heroin and opioid use.
I will give Liz Saville Roberts some figures for the UK. Between 2012 and 2015, opioid-related deaths in England rose by 58%. She will be pleased to know that in Wales that the rise was only 23; in Scotland it was 21% and in Northern Ireland, 47%. We now see an ageing cohort of drug users who began their drug-taking lives in the ’80s and ’90s coming through the system with increasingly complex health and social care needs, which have contributed to a recent spike in deaths.
A typical heroin user is likely to spend £1,400 a month on drugs—two and a half times an average mortgage. More than half of all acquisitive crimes—crimes including shoplifting, burglary, robbery, car crime, fraud and drug dealing, whether at a lower or higher level—are down to those on heroin, cocaine or crack. Those crimes have victims. To bring that down to a micro-level, figures from Kent County Council’s road safety team show there were 59 incidents of known drug-driving on Kent roads in 2016, with 16 resulting in serious injury and three in road accident deaths. Those figures are rising. In the last 10 years, Kent has seen 18 fatal, 70 serious and 142 slight accidents due to drug-driving incidents.
When budgets are stretched nationally and locally, the temptation is to reduce treatment, but that is entirely the wrong approach. NHS figures suggest that for every £1 spent on drug treatment, there is a saving of £2.50 to general society. We have a good record on drug treatment in the UK, far better than many other countries in the world. In England, 60% of heroin users are in treatment, compared with only 45% in Italy and 37% in the Netherlands. We have fewer injectors now than we did some years ago. We have an advanced needle-sharing procedure, and that is improving. As I say, it is far better than other countries: 1.3% of drug injectors suffer from HIV, compared with 3% in Germany and 37% in Russia, so we are doing some things very well.
What can drug treatment do to help outcomes for society? Obviously, it stops emergency admissions, as A&E is often the first call, it prevents suicide, self-harm and accidents, and of course it reduces reoffending. Estimates in the NHS document suggest that a city the size of Bristol could cut 95,000 offences a year through effective treatment. The benefit of that to society is some £18 million a year. It is not just the financial effect, however; there are other societal effects: reduced crime, less drug litter and less street prostitution. The area that I used to represent as a councillor in the Medway towns was plagued by street prostitution in the middle of Chatham. With that came the drug litter and sexual paraphernalia literally dumped in the street, costing the council money and being a potential source of infection to others.
Troubled families can be stabilised through effective drug treatment. We can reduce drug-related deaths and blood-borne viruses. I repeat: £1 spent can represent a saving of £2.50 to society.
The hon. Gentleman is rightly making the case that it is a false economy not to invest in addiction services. Does he share my disappointment that funding for addiction services has fallen by half and that, under this Government, public health budgets are also falling, with councils struggling to fund the addiction services we need?
I could not agree more with the hon. Gentleman: I feel there is a false economy in cutting that type of service. Obviously, they are the sort of services where we cannot always see what sort of bang we are getting for the pound spent, because the savings come about in a rather disparate way. The hon. Gentleman brings a very powerful case to the table.
The Government have spent vast sums of money over the last few years on the Frank initiative. I do not know whether hon. Members will remember it—“Call Frank”; “Tell Frank”. I have asked many youngsters of late whether they have heard of “Frank”, and they do not have a clue who he is, so I question somewhat the effectiveness of the Frank initiative, which is particularly aimed at teenagers and adolescents. I will be reporting in a detailed paper shortly, so hon. Members should look out for that.
Almost in closing, I want to look at the July 2017 drug strategy. It is a good strategy with recovery at its heart. It looks at the threats and at the actions we can take to reduce homelessness, domestic abuse and mental health issues. The strategies are the usual strategies, which I think are common sense: reducing demand through deterrence and the expansion of education and prevention information, obviously restricting supply through law enforcement responses, supporting recovery and driving international action to reduce the amount of foreign-produced drugs hitting our streets—of course, that does little to stop the ever-increasing rise of cannabis grown in the UK. I believe it is clear that drug misuse destroys lives. It has a devastating effect on families and communities.
The hon. Gentleman is coming to his conclusion. He seems to be saying that we are spending all that money trying to penalise people for drug use and trying to cut off the international supply. He has put horrific figures in front of us today. What will he do to change and affect that outcome?
I am sure that, as any of these debates progresses, there is often a clarion call: “Let’s just liberalise. Let’s just legalise.” I am very pleased that, from what I have heard so far from the Government, they have no intention of doing that, and I massively support them. Drugs are illegal for a reason, because of the clear evidence that they are harmful to human health and associated with the wider societal harms of family breakdown, poverty, crime and antisocial behaviour.
Again, if the hon. Gentleman will hold on for a moment, I will address that point. Where we have big experience areas such as Colorado and Washington, we have not seen just a stabilisation, reduction or more sensible use. We have seen increased rates and an increase in deaths and consequential accidents and results. To address his point, in an operation in Switzerland, which I think was also replicated in London, Brighton and Darlington in 2009, an unresponsive minority of heroin users who seemed not to be affected by normal drug treatment methods were given pharmaceutical-grade heroin under daily clinical conditions. I am not averse to that; it is a way forward for a very hard core of users, to keep their criminality off the street, get them clean drugs at the right time and help them off their addictions.
We often say, “Why should we criminalise the user?” In my experience of the court system, I have never seen somebody go to prison for the use of drugs. They tend to go to prison because of the criminality that results from drugs. There is one country, Sweden, that is very stiff on these things. Sweden has probably one of the most penal criminal codes for even personal use of drugs. It is interesting that it enjoys one of the lowest rates of drug use in Europe.
I have concerns that we are facing a general institutional downgrading of possession, particularly of class B drugs, and for that reason I am not sure that we see the full spectrum of what is happening out there in real drug use, based on the figures we receive from the police. If we were to see those, we would see reductions. Arrests for cannabis possession have apparently dropped by 46% since 2010. Cautions are down by 48% and numbers of people charged are down by 33%.
Is that not symptomatic of the police force taking a different attitude? Many police commissioners have come out and said, “We have to stop arresting people for personal possession.”
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. That has been the outcome. I am not particularly keen on seeing youngsters receive a criminal record for the use of drugs. There is perhaps another way, such as a non-recordable early intervention, rather than a criminal record that could be with them for life and weigh seriously against their potential job opportunities for the future. We are seeing police guidelines saying that no arrests should be made for possession. I am worried that we are seeing a normalisation of drug use. If youngsters feel that that is the new norm, there will be very little deterrent and they will feel that taking cannabis is acceptable. Inquiries I have made for my report have shown that youngsters still feel that they are deterred from going into using cannabis by the threat of criminal sanction.
I will come to my conclusion, which I hope will wrap a few things up. I am particularly fearful that this side of the Atlantic will face a potential onslaught of fentanyl and other artificial opioid derivatives, and I feel the Government need to be prepared for that. Action to rehabilitate that current core of class A drug users now will save their lives in the future, should fentanyl become more of a norm on our streets. I feel that we should be upping our game in three strands of work: education in schools, colleges and universities.
I would like to see significantly increased sentences for drug supply. Under current sentencing guidelines, the maximum sentence for the category A offence of suppling 5 kg-plus of class A drugs, which is right at the high end of drug supply, is 16 years, compared with 35 years for attempted murder. As we cope, or potentially have to cope, with fentanyl and similar lethal derivatives, we should perhaps give some thought to creating a new class—class AA—for these truly lethal drugs.
But to me, rehabilitation is the key, and I would not want to see services or that type of expenditure downgraded, because of the £2.50 saving for every £1 of investment. I would like residential rehabilitation to be the norm. We could call them prisons, if hon. Members would like, but they would be prisons or centres with one primary focus, and I think the judiciary would welcome being able to make that choice. They would be abstinence-based rehabilitation centres; people would go in on drugs and come out clean.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gapes. I congratulate Craig Mackinlay on securing a debate on this really important issue.
I will start with where I agree with the hon. Gentleman. As a father myself, I share the horror at the impact of dangerous drug use; in a sense, my starting point is to be hostile to dangerous drug use, whether legal or illegal. That is a really important point, because according to the evidence the most dangerous drug of all is alcohol, which is used very heavily within these buildings. We must remember that, because there is an enormous hypocrisy in the debate on this issue.
For me, the most depressing thing said in the Chamber today was the Prime Minister’s reaffirmation of the commitment to the war on the drugs—the catastrophically disastrous war on drugs—in response to a question from Crispin Blunt. He raised a totally rational case, which was rejected with what I would say was a rejection of the evidence and an approach based on stigma and an ignorance of the facts of the disastrous impact of the war on drugs.
It was an enormous pleasure just the other day to meet some parents, together with Ronnie Cowan, from the Anyone’s Child organisation. Far from what the Prime Minister said about the families of those who have lost their lives through drug use all rallying around to demand ever-tougher sentences, these brave people are powerfully making the case that the criminalisation of drug use has had disastrous consequences for their families and will leave them distraught for the rest of their lives.
In a way, the great irony I found in the contribution from the hon. Member for South Thanet is that he pointed to a whole series of disastrous consequences of drug use—but drug use under a criminal market. That is the extraordinary thing. I am completely with him about identifying and recognising these disasters, but they are happening here and now. There is a false thinking that suggests that, because there are dangers of drug use, the automatically sensible thing to do is to ban drugs, but we should know by now that that does not work. The Home Office’s own study in 2014 confirmed that banning has no impact on the level of drug use in society, so let us start thinking afresh about this issue.
No; I am conscious that time is really tight.
Far from protecting people, the current framework of our drug laws resulted in 3,744 drug-related deaths in 2016—the highest ever level, and a 44% increase over five years. We are not talking only about the United States; it has arrived in this country with a vengeance. Heroin and morphine deaths rose by 109% under a criminal market. It is not working.
On criminalisation, the hon. Member for South Thanet said he does not see many people ending up in prison, but just last year 45,000 people ended up with criminal convictions for possessing drugs, which has a dreadful blighting effect on their careers; we waste human capital in our country. One of the families that talked to us on Monday talked about their son, who is a really clever scientist but who now cannot work as a scientist because of the effect of his conviction several years ago. That is ludicrous, but it is the effect of criminalisation. The Australian study from a few years ago confirms the negative impact of criminalisation on all those people who end up with a criminal record.
Criminalisation also hits many people who self-medicate because they are experiencing mental ill health. It has a massive impact on people who are already vulnerable, and because they choose to use a substance to perhaps take away the pain of what they are going through, we then give them a criminal conviction. It is the most ludicrous response imaginable. There are also those people who suffer from conditions such as multiple sclerosis, and who use cannabis to ease their pain, who we then give a criminal conviction for their trouble. Again, it is a ludicrous way of responding to a real problem.
We hand vast sums of money—billions of pounds in profits—to organised crime, not only in this country but globally. It is the most extraordinary waste of resources and it promotes extreme violence in our communities. Of course, it is always the poorest communities that suffer the most. In the United States, there is very clear evidence that it is poor black communities that suffer the most. In our country, black people are targeted for stop and search, being nine times more likely to be stopped and searched for drugs than white people.
Instead of those awful consequences of criminalising drug use, let us think about an alternative approach that may be more rational and may be based on evidence, not ignorance and stigma. Let us instead regulate the market for cannabis. The data that the hon. Member for South Thanet raised from the states in the US that have legalised cannabis are highly contested data. Very respected organisations such as the Drug Policy Alliance address some of the misclaims about the impacts of cannabis use in Colorado and Washington. One of its conclusions is that teen marijuana use is unchanged, while its overall conclusion on the impact of legalisation is “So Far, So Good”.
A lot of misclaims are being made about the impact of legalisation in the United States, but a legalised, regulated market has the potential to take the trade away from criminals and instead raise pounds in taxes, which can then be used on health and education and supporting people out of addiction, rather than simply criminalising them. Let us treat it as a health issue, not a criminal justice issue. Let us accept across our country the principle of safer drug consumption rooms. They are already saving lives in eight European countries and in Canada and Australia. The principle is endorsed by the BMA. No one dies of an overdose in a drug consumption room. Let us accept that evidence and apply it in this country before we continue the carnage of loss of life that we are experiencing now. Let us accept heroin-assisted treatment where other treatments have failed. I recognise that the hon. Member for South Thanet acknowledged that that may be appropriate in some cases, but it is a policy based on evidence of what works.
Finally, the attitude of this Government. I have mentioned the 2014 Home Office study that was done while the Prime Minister was Home Secretary. Her own Department concluded that there was no international evidence at all to show that tougher drug laws reduce the use of drugs in society, so why do the Government not follow the evidence? Secondly, the evaluation of the Government’s drugs strategy last year raised some extremely serious concerns. It concluded that enforcement expenditure has
“little impact on availability.”
“Illicit drug markets are resilient and can...adapt to even significant drug and asset seizures.”
Criminalisation does not work. Contact with the criminal justice system for drug offences can,
“bring with it potential unintended consequences including unemployment...and harm to families”.
“Incarceration may also negatively impact on the indirect and unemployment harms that...drug-related enforcement activities” seek to improve. The conclusion of the Government’s own analysis is that it is not working.
Then there is the real hypocrisy. There will be loads of Ministers in this Government who have used cannabis, and probably other drugs as well, in their younger years, and yet they are prepared to see fellow citizens convicted of offences for something that they themselves did in their younger years, and they have gone on to enjoy good careers. Let us stop the hypocrisy. Let us recognise that we should apply the approach of reduction in harm, not criminalisation, because it has not worked and it has led to awful consequences internationally.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gapes. It is long overdue. It is also a pleasure to follow Norman Lamb. I congratulate him on his speech. I agree with his analysis entirely. I also congratulate my hon. Friend Craig Mackinlay on raising this issue. He is right to point out the dramatic risk of fentanyl-associated harm that is perhaps coming our way following what is happening in the United States.
Any examination of the global evidence shows that the costs my hon. Friend pointed to, financial and human, are infinitely higher than they should be owing to the global policy of prohibition and criminalisation of drugs since the 1961 UN single convention on narcotic drugs, which has been an unmitigated global public policy disaster. He rightly drew attention to the dangers of drug-driving and his concern at the increasing number of road deaths caused by drug-driving, as in the United States. That will require strong enforcement action to catch, warn and punish offenders, in the same way as drink-driving here in the UK has met with effective policing and societal attitude changes.
Forgive me; I am short of time.
I come to this debate from the criminal justice perspective, having seen for myself as Minister for Prisons and Criminal Justice the time and costs incurred by the police, courts, prisons and probation service in managing the effects of drug-related crime. My hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet also drew attention to the problems of cannabis, particularly street cannabis, which, with its high levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is more potent and liable to cause schizophrenia in long-term users.
However, those looking to use cannabis recreationally often have little to choose from and have no idea what their cannabis, acquired on the street from drug dealers, has in it. Legalisation and regulation would allow consumers to access less harmful forms of cannabis with lower levels of THC and higher levels of cannabidiol, or CBD, giving the desired high, in just the same way as drug users of tobacco and alcohol can be assured of the regulated quality and provenance of their products, together with the health warnings and all the necessary restrictions on advertising and sales that a properly regulated market can deliver.
Licensing and regulation proportionate to the risks of each type of drug and signposting users to services when they get into trouble would be the right place for public policy if we followed the evidence of what works. At a stroke it would deliver the massive good of eliminating the huge costs associated with criminal possession and supply. By permitting a legal but regulated market, we would decouple hundreds of millions of consumers around the world—millions in the UK alone—from funding and facilitating a world of criminality.
Just as prohibition in 1920s America provided a financial basis for organised crime to flourish in American cities, so our policy of prohibition has gifted an industry worth half a trillion dollars a year to serious and organised criminals producing and supplying untested substances. Their interest is hardly the health of their consumers, but far more to produce the addiction that will sustain a vastly lucrative business model.
Alongside the addiction, we then have to deal with the awful consequences of drug market violence as gangs and dealers vie for control of the trade, quite apart from the enormous amount of the lower-level criminality of burglary and other acquisitive crimes as addicts seek to fund their addiction. As well as keeping criminals, many of them young people, out of drug supply, licensing and regulation allows us to tackle the health-related harms associated with drugs and drug addiction that my hon. Friend was right to draw attention to. Criminalisation means that users are hidden from health practitioners, and there is a lack of guidance about how to find and access services. Taxation of sales by licensed retailers would pay for better prevention, treatment and public health education, available at the point of purchase—a dispensing pharmacist, for instance.
Colorado has raised half a billion dollars in state taxes and fees since it licensed recreational cannabis in 2014. The right hon. Member for North Norfolk referred to the the Home Office evaluation of its own drug strategy, which states:
“There is, in general, a lack of robust evidence as to whether capture and punishment serves as a deterrent for drug use”.
If we translate that out of bureaucratese, that means we know current policy does not work. Since we have been fighting the war on drugs for more than half a century, it might now be an idea to examine the evidence. So I say to my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet, instead of doubling down on a failing policy and demanding yet more higher sentences for particular parts of the supply chain—in the example he gave, the failing policy has led to the highest level of opioid drug deaths since records began—we should learn from decriminalisation and public health approaches in other countries.
In Portugal, for example, where the possession of small amounts of drugs has been decriminalised since 2001, a step well short of licensing and regulation, usage rates are among the lowest in Europe, and drug-related pathologies, such as blood-borne viruses and deaths due to misuse, have decreased dramatically. Compare the drug mortality rate of 5.8 per million in Portugal with Scotland, where it is 247 per million. The Portuguese state offers treatment programmes without dragging users through the criminal justice system, where it becomes harder to manage addiction and abuse. I can tell my hon. Friend, drawing on knowledge of the effort to establish drug-free wings in prisons, that it is not easy to do. I accept that it is a perfectly sound policy objective, but do not think for a minute that there is a magic wand to deliver a part of the prison system that will be proof against drugs getting in.
In the criminal justice system, as I can testify from my own experience, it is hard to manage addiction and abuse. The reshaping of our drugs policies should be informed by the growing body of evidence that will come in from the legalisation of cannabis sales in several US states and, from next July, in Canada. We will be able to learn, too, from the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany and others with drug consumption rooms, an example of the kind of regulation we could deliver around heroin consumption in supervised, safer environments where, as the right hon. Member for North Norfolk said, no one has ever died of an overdose. So we must listen to the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which seeks a balanced, evidence-based approach. The UK could have a royal commission to make evidence-based policy recommendations free of politicians’ trite response, “Drugs are bad; they must be banned.” That can give us a route to reframing the debate on drugs and finding evidence-based policy approaches that will truly reduce the costs of addiction, both financial and human.
Two hon. Members have indicated a wish to speak and I should like both to get in, but if they are to do so each needs to speak for no more than four and a half minutes.
Thank you, Mr Gapes; I was hoping to have longer on my feet—I am sure you will understand that; but much of what I was going to say was elegantly covered by Norman Lamb and Crispin Blunt, so I shall skip those parts of my speech.
The important point is that no financial cost that can be attributed to drug addiction comes close to matching the human cost. The deaths of loved ones, the sufferings of addicts, wasted lives and the associated suffering far outweigh any amount of money that has been spent fighting the war on drugs. Yet we continue to pour time, effort and money into a system that emphasises criminal prosecution. Since Mexico intensified its approach to drug law enforcement, more than 100,000 people have died and 20,000 are missing. The personal testimonies from members of Anyone’s Child are heartfelt and painful. It calls on the Government
“to regulate drugs to reduce the risk they pose”.
It says that,
“legal regulation doesn’t mean a free-for-all where drugs are widely available—our current laws have already achieved that”.
We need to take control away from the criminal fraternity. Across the world for more than 50 years the war on drugs has killed the innocent and made the guilty rich. It has destroyed communities and compounded the difficulties faced in addressing addiction problems. As we know, the UK Government spend around £1.6 billion a year on drug law enforcement. As was pointed out earlier, even the Government know that their drug policy has failed. Last night I attended an event hosted by Addaction. A gentleman who is in recovery said, “As humans we judge. It keeps us safe. Before you judge try to see the person”.
What can the Government do? Safer drug consumption rooms, which we have talked about, are already saving lives in eight European countries as well as in Canada and Australia. They have been endorsed by the British Medical Association. Those facilities reduce the spread of infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C, and the risks of public drug use. No one has ever died of an overdose in a DCR anywhere in the world. That is the third time that statement has been heard this afternoon, and it will be heard again.
Heroin-assisted treatment is also being successfully implemented in several European countries, and is endorsed by the British Medical Association. In 2016, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs stated that,
“central government funding should be provided to support heroin-assisted treatment” for patients for whom other forms of opioid substitution treatment have not been effective. I think that there is agreement here about that, but the Government have failed to act on that request.
Specialist drug checking services can allow people at nightclubs and festivals to find out what is in their batch. Data from recent UK trials showed that one in five people found that they did not have the drug that they expected, and 80% of that group then chose to use a smaller quantity, avoid mixing it with other substances, or dispose of their batch altogether.
Perhaps a financial justification is required, rather than a humanitarian one: researchers in the US Office of National Drug Control Policy have confirmed what has already been said about expenditure on treatment being more than paid for elsewhere, as they estimate that $1 spent on substance abuse treatment saves $4 in healthcare costs and $7 in law enforcement costs. Not only does drug abuse treatment save lives—it saves billions of dollars as well.
While drug use continues across society we must note that addiction can and does affect people from all walks of life. Only 10% percent of drug users will develop an addiction, and addiction does not respect race, creed, colour, religion, gender or financial standing. However, as is often the case, it is the poorest who suffer the most. In 2008, the Scottish Government published the national drugs strategy for Scotland, “The Road to Recovery”. That set out a new strategic direction for tackling problem drug use, based on treatment services promoting recovery. The Scottish Government have invested £689 million to tackle problem drug and alcohol use since 2008, and education has been an important part of the strategy.
Drug-related deaths are a particular problem in Scotland, as the hon. Gentleman has outlined, including in my constituency, where they are rapidly increasing—at a faster rate than in England and Wales. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Scottish Government need to get serious about addressing problems in NHS Scotland, such as the staff shortages in Angus, and the problems that Police Scotland face?
I shall cover that point right now: Public Health Minister Aileen Campbell has announced a refreshing of Scotland’s drugs strategy. We will not be complacent about what we have achieved, and we will continue to take an evidence-based approach, and to improve what we are doing in Scotland. We have been working on the seek, keep and treat framework, a joint initiative between the Scottish Government and the Scottish Drugs Forum, which will examine the operational implications of engaging with older drug users and how to encourage them into services and keep them in treatment.
For many people it is heroin, cocaine or cannabis that are classified as drugs; but we must not ignore alcohol. Alcohol addiction is one of the most damaging forms of drug addiction.
Absolutely, Mr Gapes.
In conclusion, if we spend money to address addiction problems as a health issue, that will not only bring about better results, but will prove to be less expensive than our current strategy, which criminalises and stigmatises people with addiction problems.
Thank you, Mr Gapes, for managing to squeeze me into the debate. I shall use the time wisely, I hope. We have all agreed that drug misuse can destroy lives, that it has a devastating effect on families and communities, and that we can help individuals by preventing drug misuse and through treatment and wider recovery support. That is where I would support the Government’s new strategy—in putting recovery at its heart.
What I am uncomfortable with at the moment is the idea of going straight to a policy of decriminalisation. I should like smarter law enforcement. How to approach that is largely in the hands of police and crime commissioners. If we had a smarter enforcement response, it might produce beneficial results. There is no reason why the enforcement process against those who supply drugs should not be harsh, involving effective action. However, we need to be much more sophisticated in our approach to possession, and in taking account of the number of people using drugs, and who are therefore committing crimes. If it is possible to take a halfway position on the issue, I certainly advocate that.
We need also to ensure better outcomes, and better measurements to capture them, throughout the process. We have bandied figures around today, but there is not a lot of commonality between them, and the figures that I have are slightly different from those that my hon. Friend Craig Mackinlay set forth. We need some really tight figures; and I am surprised, given the amount of time that has been spent in combating the drugs problem, to find that we still do not have those figures.
In an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet I mentioned the Prison Service, because I am a member of the Select Committee on Justice and have visited many prisons where the issue has come up. Sophistication is needed in the way we tackle that. There are people in prison who were taking drugs before they went there, and quite a lot who have taken drugs since they came into prison. How we handle that will say a lot about how we tackle the problem for the future.
The thing that has most impressed me is information I was sent by a charity called Release. I know that it argues for ending the criminalisation of drug possession; but it brought out some key points on which we need to concentrate. The first was the necessity to combat the situation by improving public health. We should spend some time on that. It also stresses ways that we can reduce the stigmatisation and marginalisation of vulnerable populations—a number of Members have spoken about that—and allied to that is the need to combat the spread of infectious diseases. Finally, it is also necessary to look at a range of other issues, such as addressing homelessness. Those things are in the Government strategy, but I do not yet see them being joined up in order to take them forward.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Gapes, and I congratulate Craig Mackinlay on securing this debate. I am mindful that several colleagues have not had the opportunity to say as much as they would have liked, so I am happy to take interventions as much as possible to allow those points to be put on the record.
When summing up a debate such as this, the SNP spokesperson tends to talk about what is happening in Scotland—I know that Kirstene Hair has spoken about that. I will be honest and say that the data from Scotland, particularly on drug deaths, are concerning. Statistics show that there were 867 drug-related deaths in Scotland in 2016, which in my view is 867 too many. I would be doing this House and my constituents a disservice if I glossed over that fact and did not express concern about that serious rise in drug deaths. Alongside my hon. Friend Ronnie Cowan I am happy to welcome the decision by the Scottish Government to refresh the national drugs strategy that was outlaid in 2008, and I hope that that work can be done in conjunction with the Scottish Drugs Forum.
I respect the hon. Gentleman recognising the figures from Scotland, which I find equally concerning. Does he agree that the Scottish Government need to get serious about addressing problems in NHS Scotland, specifically in my constituency, where we have extreme staff shortages? There are also problems facing Police Scotland, because those services must be robust to deliver a successful drugs strategy.
Very deliberately, because this debate is about the human and financial cost of drug addiction, I do not want to make a party political point. I could be tempted down the line of saying that if we followed the Conservative’s tax plans, that would mean £160 million less for public services in Scotland, but I shall not go down that path.
Before I move on to the human cost of drug addiction, let me sum up some of the contributions to the debate. There has been a lot of discussion and a lot of figures have been bandied about, but I want to talk about a couple of personal cases.
I congratulate all those who have spoken on this issue. In Northern Ireland, more people have died from drug addiction than from road traffic accidents, but perhaps there is a way of addressing that issue. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there must be more links between GPs, so that they can refer people whenever they are aware there is a problem and tackle addiction more successfully? There are methods to do that within the system.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, and I shall come on to the point about support services that are provided in our communities.
The hon. Member for South Thanet mentioned the Frank project, and I was conscious that he was looking over at me and probably trying to work out whether I am here on work experience, or whether I am actually an MP. I am both young enough and old enough to remember “Talk to Frank”, and it is disappointing that we do not see as much of that anymore—I remember that when I was growing up we would see it on a regular basis. Norman Lamb spoke with huge experience and knowledge on this issue. He was a Health Minister in the coalition Government, and we should spend a lot of time listening to him. I am not sure that I agreed with everything he said, but he is worthy of listening to.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned safe injecting facilities and heroin-assisted treatment. Prior to becoming a Member of the House last June, I worked for my hon. Friend Alison Thewliss, and there was a proposal to install the UK’s first safe injecting facility in Glasgow. I am disappointed that the Lord Advocate in Scotland has said that he is currently not minded to give that legal cover, and to go down that route we will probably need Home Office Ministers to look at the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. In Glasgow we are pushing ahead with the heroin-assisted treatment model, which should be welcomed.
Crispin Blunt spoke about the importance of following the evidence, which I endorse. Before I was an MP, I had the privilege of going to Dublin and visiting the Ana Liffey project, which is moving towards a safe injecting facility. The key message that we took from there was that we should very much follow the evidence. I commend NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, which throughout the entire process has built an evidence-based case, and that point is well made. My hon. Friend the Member for Inverclyde had a short amount of time in which to speak. I am conscious that he speaks with a huge amount of passion on this issue, and I hope that he continues to do that in this House. I commend the work done by him and the right hon. Member for North Norfolk this week.
I see my role as an MP as being to speak up for constituents in the east end, and to give ordinary Glaswegians a voice in Parliament. Last week, Michelle Kearney, who is originally from Carmyle in my constituency, spoke bravely in the Evening Times about the death of her daughter, Michelle, who tragically died aged just 16 on
The details of numerous failings by the Children’s Panel and social workers is a pain that Michelle still carries to this day. These are her words, and I very much hope that I can do her justice:
“My pain is the same pain as any other mother who has lost a child. Why should my pain be minimised because my daughter made a choice to take drugs that night? That’s a big hurdle for the families…I just had a feeling. I knew she wouldn’t be an adult. I had a sense. She said, ‘mum I’m never going to be a big lady. I’ll never be happy in this world but I know that I will in the next’…I could feel her dying every day. I buried her in my head for four years…She became a prostitute, not to fund anything but because that’s all she thought she was good for. She had met a girl that night and went back to a flat. I believe she was injected by the girl because she was injected into her right arm and she was right handed. It took 12 hours for her to die and she died with strangers…The police came to my door to tell me that she had been found dead. She had only tried drugs twice to my mind. It was just her time to go and came as no surprise, I just didn’t expect it to be drugs…She was the first child to die in those circumstances so her death was very public. There was no justice. It devastated our family.”
Michelle’s courage in talking publicly about her daughter’s death is, in itself, remarkable, but the fact that she has now chosen to dedicate her life to helping others as a counsellor for the Family Addiction Support Service says a lot about her selflessness. I pay tribute to that service in Glasgow. It does tremendous work with families, and throughout this debate we must be mindful of the families of those affected by addiction. I hope that by being able to give Michelle a voice in Parliament today I have managed to do her justice, but it was just by chance that I read her story in Saturday’s Evening Times. By that point I had already informed the Whips Office, and the Chair, that I intended to speak in this debate, based on my own upbringing.
I have spoken before in this House about being brought up in the Cranhill area of Glasgow’s east end—something of which I am fiercely proud. My first involvement in any form of political activism was not delivering leaflets for the SNP; it was going on a Mothers Against Drugs march with my mum on our housing estate. On
As we reflect on the current battle that we have with drugs in our communities and families, I very much hope that in 20 years’ time, the next MP for Cranhill will not be standing here talking about a death rate from drugs of 867. The time for talk is over; the time for action is now, and that is a message for all Governments.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gapes.
Let me start by thanking Craig Mackinlay for securing this important debate, and for his excellent opening speech, which laid out all the human and associated monetary costs that drug addiction costs society and indeed the Exchequer. His figures are even greater than the ones I will be citing in my contribution, which is perhaps because he included all classes of drugs. I will only be citing figures for class A drugs, but that shows the enormity of the costs that we are dealing with today.
While there is a very important debate going on in the main Chamber, it is welcome to see the number of MPs here today to discuss this important issue. We have had many excellent contributions to the debate, including from Norman Lamb, the hon. Members for Reigate (Crispin Blunt), for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan) and for Henley (John Howell), and David Linden, who is the Scottish National party spokesperson; he made a pertinent and moving speech, and I commend him for that. They all made strong and thought-provoking speeches, and we have had some excellent interventions. I thank all Members for taking the time to set out their positions and thoughts on drug addiction and the costs to society.
As we have heard, drug addiction is one of the most deeply concerning issues we face today. Drug addiction, in its many guises, can blight communities and the lives of so many people, which is why it is vital that policy is developed to significantly reduce the harm that addiction can inflict on individuals and communities. According to Home Office figures, the number of people taking drugs has fallen significantly over the past decade. That is to be welcomed. Reducing the number of people taking drugs is a step in the right direction to not only improve the health of the nation but reduce crime and pressures on our public services.
Sadly, if we scratch the surface, we unveil more uncomfortable truths that the Government must face. In 2016, there were a total of 2,593 drug misuse deaths involving illegal drugs—the highest number since comparable records began in 1993. That trend in avoidable deaths is reflected across both genders. However, for men the drug misuse mortality rate has jumped sharply over the last three years and reached a new peak of 67.1 deaths per million people—another high since records began in 1993. The female rate is less pronounced but is also at an all-time high.
Across Europe, it is estimated that a total of 8,441 deaths occurred due to drug overdose in 2015, mainly from heroin or other opioids. Here in the UK, we come out on top with the highest percentage of those deaths, at 31%. That is absolutely damning, especially when the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs stated in a report last year that England alone saw an increase of 58% in opioid deaths between 2012 and 2015. Much of that is put down to ageing users of heroin and opioids, which begs the question: what are the Government doing to address the often complex social care needs of drug addicts?
It is not only the deaths that occur from drug misuse and addiction that are concerning, but also the costs to society in general, as we heard from the hon. Member for South Thanet. In terms of monetary costs, it is estimated that class A drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine cost us £15.4 billion a year, which is £44,231 per problematic user. Broken down, that figure is roughly £13.86 billion on social and economic costs, £535 million on drug arrests and £488 million on the NHS dealing with mortality and morbidity and providing acute treatment and support for mental health and behavioural disorders associated with drug misuse. As I said, that is just for class A drugs. When we include all classes of drugs, the sums increase substantially, as has been set out in detail.
Does my hon. Friend agree with the drugs, alcohol and justice cross-party parliamentary group that, to reduce alcohol and drugs-related deaths and illnesses, a co-ordinated harm reduction strategy needs to be prioritised?
Yes, I do agree.
It is no wonder, when we go off all these figures, that earlier this year the UK was deemed the overdose capital of Europe and is now seen internationally as having serious shortcomings when it comes to addressing addiction and drug misuse. What are the Government going to do to address these problems? I am sure the Minister will cite the recent publication of the drugs strategy in the summer. As he will know, Opposition Members welcomed the strategy, but it left us wanting. There is much to be welcomed in it, but it is clear that what was announced has not moved us on any further from what was happening in 2010 and now works within a seriously reduced financial envelope due to short-sighted cuts to public health budgets.
The Minister knows all too well that public health budgets have been decimated, with an estimated £800 million expected to be siphoned out of local budgets by 2021. That has meant drug rehabilitation services being closed and budgets to tackle drug abuse cut, all against a backdrop of an NHS under significant pressure. Labour’s analysis of figures published by the Department for Communities and Local Government shows that this year we will see 106 councils reduce drug treatment and prevention budgets by a total of £28.4 million, 95 councils reduce alcohol treatment and prevention, at a total of £6.5 million, and 70 local authorities reduce drug and alcohol services for children, at a total of £8.3 million. That works out at a total reduction of £43.3 million imposed by the Minister’s Government on a whole host of services created to prevent and treat addiction problems. Those figures are unavoidable and shameful. We should be putting greater emphasis on the radical upgrade in public health and prevention promised in the “Five Year Forward View” in 2014.
The Minister cannot come before us today and honestly say that his Government are improving services and seriously addressing this issue when they are overseeing such significant cuts that are rolling back provision on addiction services. It is not just me or Labour making that case, but also the likes of the chief executive of Collective Voices, Paul Hayes, who said earlier this year:
“The more we disinvest in treatment, as we are doing at the moment, the more we will put increasing numbers of people at risk of early avoidable deaths.”
The Minister has the power to go back to his Department and ensure that these avoidable deaths are avoided and the unnecessary losses of life halted.
The Government’s failure to seriously get to grips with the issue of drug addiction and the sad outcomes associated with it is shaming us across the world. Yasmin Batliwala, chair of the Westminster Drug Project, was recently reported as saying:
“We once had services that led the way.”
She went on:
“We now need to do a lot to catch up with countries in the developing world that are doing a lot more for their service users. The sign of a civilised society is how it cares for its most vulnerable.”
The Minister needs to acknowledge that his Government are overseeing such a negative and backwards approach to prevention, instead of taking radical steps to address and prevent drug addiction.
It is high time this Government seriously came to terms with the actions they have taken over the last few years on public health and rethink their short-sighted approach. Otherwise, we will see the figures that I quoted at the beginning of my speech become ever worse under their watch. The people who struggle and battle with addiction deserve and need our support, not just for them, to improve their lives, but for the rest of society, so that we can finally ensure that no one’s life is blighted by 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 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 Norman Lamb, my hon. Friend Crispin Blunt and 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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
I thank right hon. and hon. Members very much for their contributions this afternoon—obviously, it is a split debate and a split decision. I will put just one thing on the record now, if I may. We tend to make dangerous things illegal. When firearms are used to commit dreadful offences in the US—