Tackling problem drug use - Public Accounts Committee Contents


There are 330,000 problem drug users in England. They are estimated, based on research covering the 2003-04 period, to cost society over £15 billion a year, £13.9 billion of which is due to drug-related crime. In 2008, the Government introduced a 10 year cross-departmental drug strategy to tackle problem drug use, which it defined as use of opiates (mainly heroin) and/or crack cocaine. The Home Office (the Department) has overall responsibility for the strategy, with a number of other government departments and agencies, at national, regional and local levels, sharing responsibility for its delivery. Central and local government collectively spend £1.2 billion a year to deliver the measures set out in the strategy.

Drug-related offending inflicts a trail of misery on communities and direct damage and harm to the victims of crimes. Drug treatment aims to reduce problem drug users' offending, to improve their health, and to reintegrate them into society. Problem drug users often relapse and reoffend, and around a quarter are hard core offenders for whom interventions simply do not work.

Given the public money spent on the strategy and the cost to society, we find it unacceptable that the Department has not carried out sufficient evaluation of the programme of measures in the strategy and does not know if the strategy is directly reducing the overall cost of drug-related crimes. Following a recommendation made by the National Audit Office, the Department has agreed to produce an overall framework to evaluate and report on the value for money achieved from the strategy, with initial results from late 2011.

The Department does not know how to most effectively tackle problem drug use. Residential rehabilitation may be effective for those who have failed to 'go clean' in other forms of treatment. All drug users receiving treatment require motivation to stay off drugs when back in their local communities. Support services help these people to reintegrate into their home environments and to resist temptations and pressures to return to drug use and offending. Some problem drug users receiving drug treatment while in prison quickly relapse on release. Meeting them at the prison gates and escorting them to community services and ongoing treatment may be important steps to prevent a quick relapse into drug use and reoffending.

We consider that measures to reduce problem drug use by young people have had limited impact. Preventing young people from becoming problem drug users is important in bringing down the future number of problem drug users and the associated costs to society.

On the basis of a Report by the Comptroller and Auditor General,[1] we took evidence from witnesses from the Home Office and the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse about the drug strategy, drug-related crime, drug treatment and reintegration and preventing young people from becoming future generations of problem drug users.

1   C&AG's Report, Session 2009-10, Tackling problem drug use, HC (2009-10) 297 Back

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Prepared 7 April 2010