Drug Treatment Services

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:16 pm on 16th July 2019.

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Photo of Seema Kennedy Seema Kennedy The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care 5:16 pm, 16th July 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I begin by sending my sympathies and those of the whole House to Chelsea’s family and friends. It is a reminder to us all of the seriousness of the subject we are discussing today. I also thank Jeff Smith for securing this important debate.

Many of the hon. Members who have spoken are devoting their parliamentary lives to this issue, because they feel so strongly about it. They have raised questions that are a matter not only for me and my Department but for other ministerial colleagues, particularly those in the Home Office, and I will transmit the many challenges that have been set for me today to those colleagues.

We have made some progress in reducing drug dependency-related harms, but, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out, this is an ancient problem. We have made progress but we are not at all complacent, and events such as the death of a girl such as Chelsea remind us that there is much more to do. I have to work with other Government Departments, public health experts and local government to continue supporting people through recovery and to prevent them from ever taking up drugs in the first place.

We published a drugs strategy in July 2017 and it is being rolled out. We know about the serious health harms of drug use, including blood-borne viruses, overdose and death, which have been outlined in great detail by hon. Members. We know that the majority of people who need treatment for drug problems are also experiencing mental health issues. We know that drugs cost £10.7 billion a year in policing, healthcare and crime costs; it is estimated that drug-fuelled theft alone costs us £6 billion a year. There is both an economic case and a moral case for us all to act on this.

It is encouraging 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 past year, compared with 10.1% of adults in 2006-07. More adults are successfully leaving treatment than in 2009-10, and the average waiting time to access treatment is two days.

I will pick up on some of the points that hon. Members have made. On the drug-related death figures for Scotland, health is a devolved matter, but of course—[Interruption.] I am afraid I cannot hear what Alison Thewliss is saying.