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

The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. I absolutely agree that we need regulation and control. Personally, I am not sure about royal commissions, because they tend to kick things into the long grass a bit, but perhaps a parliamentary commission or some other way of looking at the problem, trying to come to a consensus and taking the politics out of it—stop people weaponising drugs as a political issue—is the way forward. We need to look at that, because our system is not working. This is not a debate about wider drug policy but, clearly, that policy is not working, and it is resulting in the kind of problems that we face—addicts need the kind of drug treatment services that this debate is about.

I will try to be quick, because other people want to contribute to this short debate. On innovative models of service delivery, naloxone is a life-saving medication that can be used to reverse opioid overdose. However, coverage across England remains poor and the guidance is confusing. If we cannot convince the Government to increase funding for naloxone treatment by implementing a national naloxone programme, they should at least offer national support and guidance for local authorities and prisons. Finally, on drug safety testing, the Home Office’s refuses explicitly to sanction drug safety testing, which is a simple measure that could save lives and result in fewer people needing treated for drug harms.

We therefore need a refocus of our spending priorities. Funding constraints are curbing the effectiveness of proven treatment and harm reduction measures at the same time as we spend fortunes on drug law enforcement. In 2014-15, for example, an estimated £1.6 billion was spent on drug law enforcement, compared with only £541 million on drug treatment and harm reduction services over the same period. However, while we know that treatment services are cost-effective and save money, the Home Office’s own evaluation of its last drug strategy could not demonstrate value for money in drug law enforcement or enforcement-related activities.

The Government, unfortunately, are preoccupied with trying to stop people from taking drugs—something no one has managed to do in centuries of human behaviour—instead of focusing on harm reduction and treatment. Problematic drug users are stigmatised by our policies and treated as criminals, leaving them less likely to access the life-saving drug treatment services that they need, for fear of arrest. Meanwhile, the services that are available—as we heard earlier—have had their funding slashed and continue to be squeezed.

I need to conclude with some proposals. First, the one consistent message from all stakeholders who have been in touch and care about the issue is that we need to reverse the cuts to our struggling drug and alcohol treatment system. We need to reinvest in those services. The Camurus report released today states:

“The evidence shows that we are fast approaching a point at which we risk doing irreparable damage to our hard-won recovery system, leaving services unable to meet the scale of need that exists.”

The Government must therefore use the upcoming spending review to increase spending on drug treatment services. They need to provide local authorities with additional funding towards those services, without which the ability of services to meet demand will continue to decline.

Among other proposals I suggest the Government should consider guaranteeing the delivery of substance misuse services by making them a statutory, mandated service to end the ambiguity about their delivery and to underline importance of protecting budgets. The Government should also look at the commissioning regime—the consensus among many stakeholders is that it is not working and is too variable—to see whether it is fit for purpose. A 2017 report by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs asked whether the constant re-procurement of addiction services creates unnecessary instability in the system, resulting in poorer recovery outcomes, which is something I have seen on a small scale in the area of south Manchester I represent. Finally, we need to remove barriers to overdose prevention centres and drug safety testing to encourage faster use of heroin-assisted treatment. Such proposals can stop deaths and reduce the numbers going into treatment. We are looking at a public health emergency, and we need to act.

The shadow Health Secretary, my hon. Friend Jonathan Ashworth, has talked movingly about his experience of alcoholism in his family. He has promised that a future Labour Government will reverse the decline in the drug and alcohol treatment sector. I fully support him in that endeavour, but we cannot wait. We need the Government to act to safeguard our drug treatment services and, most importantly, to safeguard those who use them.