Select Committee on Home Affairs Memoranda


Submitted by Islington Drug & Alcohol Action Team


  The Select Committee has asked local Drug Action Teams and other stakeholders whether the existing drugs policy works. A sweeping response to this statement is impossible. There is little doubt that the priority given to drug misuse as a result of the 1995 and 1998 drug strategies has resulted in real progress on most fronts. The boost for treatment, the attempts to improve services to offenders, the emphasis on engaging with young people are to be welcomed. Likewise, the "Communities Against Drugs" scheme offers an excellent opportunity to deliver real improvements at local level and build local partnerships.

  However, we believe that the current debate around overall policy direction, including issues around the legal status of drugs, is one that needs to be had. Any decision to relax current laws should be taken in the context of the available evidence, and should take an honest look at prevalence and patterns of drug use, harm minimisation and criminalisation, and whether current laws prevent the development of innovative treatment approaches.


2.1  Drugs strategy or substance misuse strategy?

  Alcohol needs to be taken seriously by Government. North Islington Primary Care Group and Camden and Islington Health Authority, as well as local providers, have emphasised the need to develop a funded national alcohol strategy. The National Treatment Outcome Research Study (longitudinal research into patterns of substance misuse) has noted that increased drinking often follows reduced drug use. Likewise, it seems odd that newly developed Arrest Referral Schemes, Drug Treatment and Testing Order services and the CARAT teams in prisons are unable to work with problem drinkers. The Office of National Statistics survey of psychiatric morbidity (1998) estimated that 6,530 people in Islington were alcohol-dependent, compared to 4,250 drug-dependent. The lack of a properly funded strategy makes it hard for us to meet the needs of these people, who number over 5 per cent of our total population.

2.2  Drugs services in prisons

  Prison drugs care is another area of concern, and we believe it should come under the auspices of the Drug Action Teams. This would enable us to better co-ordinate post release services and work together with different DAT's to ensure any services that are developed meet the strategic objectives of the DAT plans.

2.3  Need to continue increases in treatment funding and address capacity

  Treatment funding has been boosted through the Comprehensive Spending Reviews. However, the historic underfunding of drug services has left the field under resourced in terms of staffing and building capacity. The National Treatment Agency must begin to address this, delivering a national strategy to recruit, train and retain drugs staff.

2.4  Need to look at wider definitions of treatment

  Islington DAAT believes that treatment services should offer a real choice to problem drug users. Appropriate services are needed for young people, families, black and minority ethnic groups and people who choose to continue their drug use. Services should also address the wider problems of social exclusion, and improve their interface with the regeneration agenda. This means that aftercare and support should be provided for drug users leaving treatment. It also means that services should work towards ensuring that the housing, employment and training needs of former users are taken seriously. This is especially pertinent in Inner London, when the good work of residential treatment providers (cost to social services £350-450 per week) is often undone for the want of safe social housing on return to the community (cost in rent of £50-60 per week).

3.  Decriminalisation and the legal status of different drugs

  We are aware that a main consideration of this review concerns the impact of changes in the legal status of drugs. Islington DAAT encompasses a range of different views on this issue. However, as a general consensus we believe that:

    —  A decision on whether to continue with the status quo, or change the laws, should be made on the best available evidence. This should seriously consider whether issues around health, offending behaviour and treatment are best served by existing laws.

    —  The legal status of cannabis and dance drugs such as ecstasy is not something that the DAAT has given extensive consideration. This is a result of the serious problems we face with crack cocaine and heroin dealing/use. However, we cannot fail to note that users of these drugs are a very small minority of people attending treatment services and coming to the attention of police as drug-related offenders. Consideration should be given to dealing with users of these drugs in ways which do not bring them into contact with the criminal justice system, or which minimise the chances of them risking employment or educational opportunities.

    —  At the same time, we also believe that young people and others should be realistically informed of the risks associated with taking any substances, including alcohol, and that harm minimisation advice should be readily available in pubs, clubs, schools and on the internet.

    —  We believe that the law should be flexible enough to cope with different drug-related demands whatever the legal status of the particular substances. For example, we have problems in the Kings Cross area with discarded needles and public drug use. If we were able to develop a facility where users could inject in safety and offer primary care support at the same time we would reduce the nuisance created by street use as well as being able to better engage with our most chaotic users.

    —  The bottom line must surely be to reduce the harm done to users and wider society, and we must take a serious look at how we engage with drug users and community groups. Over the last twenty years we have seen rising health, community safety and criminal justice problems arising from increased use of Class "A" drugs. It was highlighted at the recent London Drug Policy Forum "availability" conference that the never ending supply of dealers hampers the attempts of Police/Customs and Excise to deal with the "middle market" and affects supply routes. Though there are cultural differences that impact on different national drugs policies, we do need to study models of policing and treatment services in other European countries so as to benefit from good practice and address an issue that seems likely to be with us for some time yet.

September 2001

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