It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate my hon. Friend Jeff Smith for an excellent speech and for his commitment to tackle unswervingly the problems associated with drug and alcohol abuse.
I am pleased to speak as co-chair of the drugs, alcohol and justice cross-party parliamentary group that last week considered the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs’ recent report, “Custody-Community Transitions”. The report is helpful in providing advice on how to reduce drug-related harms that happen when people move between custody and the community. I hope the Minister will agree to implement the report’s practical recommendations as soon as possible to ensure continuity of care.
Some simple changes could make a huge difference. For example, it suggests prisoners with complex needs should not be released on to the streets on Fridays. Given that last year only 12% of prisoners with drugs problems left prison with naloxone, which can reverse the effects of overdose, the report recommends that naloxone should be issued to all prisoners with drug problems on leaving custody.
We have record rates of drug-related deaths, yet drug treatment budgets have been slashed and services cut, as has already been said. I am sad to say that my region, the north-east, is the worst affected in England. Today we have heard that drug-related deaths in Scotland have gone up by a staggering 27%. We can only tackle these soaring statistics if substance misuse services are made mandatory and drug treatment budgets ring-fenced.
Instead of investing in harm reduction, we waste valuable resources on an unwinnable war on drugs, treating this as a criminal justice rather than a public health issue. We have excellent examples of a different approach being taken in the checkpoint scheme in County Durham and the Thames Valley diversion scheme. They show effective alternative solutions—not easy options, but positive ways of getting people out of trouble and into treatment. Another innovation to help drug users would be the introduction of drug-consumption rooms—effectively overdose prevention centres—which the Government stubbornly refuse to allow, despite conclusive evidence that they are of massive benefit.
In summary, I will quote Paul Townsley, chief executive of the charity Humankind:
“These challenging times provide an important opportunity to cement the evidence base of what our service users and our communities need, but to achieve this we will need stable funding and commissioning…
Government has a duty to act now to ensure treatment services are accessible to all who need them. We call on Government to ensure that substance misuse treatment is a prescribed local public health activity.”
I can only concur.