Select Committee on Home Affairs Memoranda


Submitted by the London Drug Policy Forum (LDPF)

  1.  The London Drug Policy Forum (LDPF) was established in 1991 on the initiative of the Corporation of London with funding from the Corporation and the Home Office to co-ordinate London local authority policy and practice and to encourage joint working. Since 1999, following establishment of the Drug Prevention Advisory Service and withdrawal of Home Office financial support it has been fully funded by the Corporation of London. It exists to assist, support and advise policy makers on drug issues affecting the capital.

  2.  The LDPF comprises of elected Members representing the Association of London Government and others who have experience at a senior level of tackling drug related problems. It is supported and advised by an Advisory Group consisting of people working within the London area on drug-related topics (including Drug Action Team Co-ordinators). It provides the LDPF with a range of expertise and experience.

  3.  It also works closely with the 33 London Drug Action teams. It provides them with a platform to discuss issues of concern and a unique voice to ensure they are heard by policy makers in both Local and Central Government.

  4.  London has a concentration of problematic drug misusers and the problems associated with drug misuse. This submission seeks to reflect the experience of those the LDPF works with as regards the Government's drug policy.


  5.  Since the launch of Tackling Drugs Together in 1995, followed in 1998 by the launch of the 10 year strategy "Tackling Drugs to Build a Better Britain", very significant levels of additional resources have been provided to improve treatment, education and prevention. Equally welcome have been efforts to improve co-operation and co-ordination at national and local level (eg the creation of Drug Action Teams, and the UKADCU).

  6.  Progress has been made. There has been an increase in the number accessing treatment services—and despite severe shortages of appropriately trained staff this is an area where government targets may be achieved. Within the Young People strand of the strategy there has been improvement as regards drug education within the curriculum. The Arrest Referral Schemes and Drug Treatment and Testing Orders, despite teething difficulties, are helping individuals break the link between their drug problems and crime. The increased focus of the Police and other law enforcement agencies on the most damaging drugs and on those engaged in supply offences is also a positive development.

  7.  Potentially the most important aspect of the strategy is its support and development of partnership and multi-agency working. Drug Action Teams are an obvious example of this but there are others. The existing strategy has helped overcome many institutional and cultural barriers, for example between the Police and treatment service providers. There remains room for improvement, but the benefits of these joint approaches are worthy of acknowledgement.

  8.  Inevitably there are weaknesses. For example in the strategic planning of the strategy, particularly given its aspiration to be evidence based. Though significant sums have been invested in research it has not effectively informed policy development and practice. Some areas remain under-researched.

  9.  This is particularly evident as regards education with its range of differing and conflicting approaches. Three years into the strategy a longitudinal study to track the impact of different interventions is still awaiting implementation. In the treatment field there is a dearth of research supporting those working with stimulant abusers, in particular crack cocaine.

  10.  There are also gaps in the strategy that need addressing. For examples the lack of a specific target to reduce drug-related deaths.

  11.  The failure to set in place a human resource strategy is a very significant problem, which if not tackled urgently will severely limit ability to achieve Government targets. Expansion of treatment provision requires skilled workers yet there is no central plan to help deliver them. Drug treatment, needs, and deserves strengthening as a discipline in its own right, not as an addition to Mental Health or other established subjects. Central attempts to provide additional workers have been haphazard and put stress upon already over-stretched DATs.

  12.  Many London DATs and other agencies have vacancies in key positions. This problem impacts upon the deliverability of Government targets and limits the benefits of increased Government investment. In general mechanisms do not exist to ensure investment reaches its intended targets.

  13.  A key to improvement would be greater coherence at the heart of Government and stronger, consistent leadership to help overcome remaining barriers between different departments and agencies. At a Whitehall level the drugs agenda is still insufficiently linked into wider social inclusion and regeneration activities. More planning prior to major announcements—eg the creation of the National Treatment Agency—would improve delivery on the ground. There needs to be an examination of whether certain structures (eg within law enforcement agencies) hamper effective tackling of drug related problems.

  14.  Many of the mechanisms required to deliver the strategy are in place—though they remain fragile. They need nurturing to allow them to deliver the support and services to those who are effected by drugs and their associated problems.


  15.  Assessing the likely impact of decriminalisation is a largely theoretical exercise. Comparisons to other nations are of little benefit if we consider the impact of culture. For example similar laws govern alcohol across Europe but the UK has its own distinctive features around alcohol consumption. What seems clear is that signals given about the perceived dangers of drugs do have an impact on young people's willingness to experiment. There is also strong evidence to suggest that for some of the most vulnerable the illegality of a substance is a valued defence.

  16.  However, there clearly remains room for improving and developing advice to Police and others in the Criminal Justice System on the handling of individuals found in possession of, or using, small quantities of illegal substances. There is also a need to ensure that the Criminal Justice system does not unnecessarily impede the work of those helping problematic drug misusers.

  17.  Recent medical studies highlight the dangers of both short-term and long-term drug abuse.


  18.  The fundamental principles set out in the strategy still enjoy widespread support amongst those working across the drugs field. Though progress has been made there is a need for Central Government to consider what changes in organisational structures and cultural attitudes are still required to allow the most effective impact on drug misuse and its associated problems.

September 2001

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