Drug Treatment Services

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:30 pm on 16th July 2019.

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Photo of Jeff Smith Jeff Smith Opposition Whip (Commons) 4:30 pm, 16th July 2019

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered drug treatment services.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Hollobone. This is a very timely debate, because today we learned shocking new figures for drug-related deaths in Scotland. There were 1,187 drug-related deaths last year, which is an increase of 27% on the previous year and the highest drug death rate in the EU. We await the 2018 figures for England and Wales without much hope for better news or an improvement.

Today also sees the launch of a new report called “Towards Sustainable Drug Treatment Services” by the research-led biotech company Camurus, which has done some extremely interesting research on the state of drug treatment services, including anonymised surveys of 22 directors of public health in England. I thank Camurus for sight of that report and thank those who have sent me briefings from other organisations, including the Hepatitis C Trust, Release, the Alcohol Health Alliance UK, the Local Government Association, Humankind and the Royal College of Psychiatrists. I will not be able to refer to all those briefings in this relatively short debate, but a couple of themes emerge from most if not all of them.

First, there is worry across the sector that the whole drug treatment services system is under pressure—some would say under threat. Since around 2012, Government cuts have squeezed treatment services so much that they are under strain and struggling to cope with demand. In 2010, the coalition Government inherited one of the best drug and alcohol treatment systems in the world, with over 250,000 people treated every year. Drug-related crime was decreasing, HIV and AIDS were under control, and tens of thousands were overcoming addiction through opiate substitution or abstinence-based programmes. The Labour government prioritised that sector in the late 1990s as part of their social exclusion agenda, and raised treatment budgets from around £200 million per year in 1998 to more than £1 billion by 2003.

When the coalition Government’s austerity really began to hit public services, the hardest-hit area was local government. When local authorities became responsible for the funding and commissioning of drugs services under the Health and Social Care Act 2012, they were already struggling with the reduction of approximately 37% in central Government funding between 2010 and 2016. Between 2014 and 2019, net expenditure on adult drug and alcohol services decreased by 19% in real terms. In 2017, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs warned that local authority funding would prioritise mandated services over non-mandated services, such as drug services,

“particularly if service users are stigmatised or seen as undeserving.”

All the stakeholders who contacted me have expressed their dismay at the impact of the cuts in recent years. More than a third of the public health directors surveyed by Camurus believe they will be unable to keep up with demand for substance misuse services in the coming year.