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New funding to tackle drug misuse 'a drop in the ocean', say experts

Government announces £80m for treatment including rollout of overdose medicine naloxone

Discarded needles
The funding comes after official figures revealed the number of drug-related deaths in England and Wales hit a record high – 4,393 in 2019, compared with 4,359 in 2018. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
The funding comes after official figures revealed the number of drug-related deaths in England and Wales hit a record high – 4,393 in 2019, compared with 4,359 in 2018. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Jamie Grierson Home affairs correspondent

Last modified on Wed 20 Jan 2021 08.47 EST

The government has announced a package of funding to tackle drug misuse including £80m for treatment services, although experts have said the investment is “a drop in the ocean” compared with cuts suffered by the sector in the last 10 years.

The funding will go to drug treatment services across England, increasing the number of places for prison leavers and offenders on community sentences, funding additional detox beds, and a rollout of the lifesaving overdose medicine naloxone, the government said.

Ministers have pledged to provide naloxone, which reverses breathing difficulties brought about by opioid use, to “every heroin user in the country that needs it”.

The funding comes after official figures revealed the number of drug-related deaths in England and Wales hit a record high – 4,393 in 2019, compared with 4,359 in 2018.

The £80m forms part of a broader £148m package that will also provide extra resources to law enforcement to tackle organised criminal gangs and the supply of drugs.

However, experts have warned that the £80m for drug treatment services will not make up for the cuts experienced in the last 10 years. Between 2013-14 and 2018-19 drug treatment funding was reduced by £160m.

Niamh Eastwood, director of the charity Release, a national centre of expertise on drug policy, said: “While of course funding for treatment is welcomed, this is a drop in the ocean compared to the cuts that the sector has suffered after ten years of austerity … It is more than disappointing that the rhetoric from No 10 and the Home Office continues along the failed ‘tough on drugs’ criminal justice approach, when we know, from the evidence, that drug policy reform needs to be implemented to achieve the best outcomes.

“What we need is an end of the criminalisation of people who use drugs – reducing stigma, resulting in more people accessing treatment if they need it – and support for the safe supply of prescribed drugs to replace illicit use, as well a scaling up of a range of harm reduction initiatives, like overdose prevention centres.”

George Charlton, an independent consultant with expertise in drug harm reduction, cautiously welcomed the funding but said the ongoing focus on criminalisation was not working and would have to end.

“I welcome the announcement by the government. It’s well overdue that we’re investing and putting funding back into drug and alcohol services but we have to be realistic about the bigger picture that we’re going to have to face in a year or two or five years from now.

“The current approach isn’t working. Criminalising doesn’t work. We have to offer a harm prevention approach. Access to drug testing, access to safe injecting facilities. There’s a really strong evidence base globally, the solutions are already there.”

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Summary | 5 Annotations
The government has announced a package of funding to tackle drug misuse including £80m for treatment services, although experts have said the investment is “a drop in the ocean” compared with cuts suffered by the sector in the last 10 years.
2021/01/20 15:29
Ministers have pledged to provide naloxone, which reverses breathing difficulties brought about by opioid use, to “every heroin user in the country that needs it”.
2021/01/20 15:29
Niamh Eastwood, director of the charity Release, a national centre of expertise on drug policy, said: “While of course funding for treatment is welcomed, this is a drop in the ocean compared to the cuts that the sector has suffered after ten years of austerity … It is more than disappointing that the rhetoric from No 10 and the Home Office continues along the failed ‘tough on drugs’ criminal justice approach, when we know, from the evidence, that drug policy reform needs to be implemented to achieve the best outcomes.
2021/01/20 15:29
“What we need is an end of the criminalisation of people who use drugs – reducing stigma, resulting in more people accessing treatment if they need it – and support for the safe supply of prescribed drugs to replace illicit use, as well a scaling up of a range of harm reduction initiatives, like overdose prevention centres.”
2021/01/20 15:29
“I welcome the announcement by the government. It’s well overdue that we’re investing and putting funding back into drug and alcohol services but we have to be realistic about the bigger picture that we’re going to have to face in a year or two or five years from now.“The current approach isn’t working. Criminalising doesn’t work. We have to offer a harm prevention approach. Access to drug testing, access to safe injecting facilities. There’s a really strong evidence base globally, the solutions are already there.”
2021/01/20 15:29