Reducing the harm from illegal drugs – Report Summary

This is a House of Commons Committee report, with recommendations to government. The Government has two months to respond.

Author: Committee of Public Accounts

Related inquiry: Reducing the harm from illegal drugs

Date Published: 9 February 2024

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The harm caused by illegal drugs is a significant and complex problem. The government estimates that three million people in England and Wales take illegal drugs each year, with the highest rates among young adults, costing society some £20 billion. Funding for drug and alcohol treatment services decreased by 40% in real terms between 2014–15 and 2021–22, while numbers in treatment fell and drug-related deaths increased to record levels. The Government asked Dame Carol Black to review what needed to be done and, in response to her review, in December 2021 launched the From harm to hope strategy. Government committed £900 million of new funding to help tackle the problems.

While it is only two years since the strategy’s implementation began, overall progress has been mixed. We welcome the achievements so far. Departments have improved collaboration and overseen the creation of 106 new partnerships with local areas, and there has been tangible progress in recruiting drug workers and increasing disruptions to the supply of illegal drugs. However, progress towards the strategy’s aims of reducing drug use and related harms is less clear. Delays in allocating funding to local authorities have made it more difficult for them to deliver high quality services and there is still a surprising lack of understanding of what works best to prevent people from taking drugs, despite this being a stated ambition of previous strategies. Experts in the field told us that the existing approach will not address the fundamental challenge of developing a joined-up cross-sector response to support people to recover from addiction.

It is crucial, therefore, that the cross-departmental Joint Combating Drugs Unit works with departments to make the case for continued investment in the next phase of the ten-year strategy. A sustained long-term focus is needed if the government is to achieve its long-term outcomes and get value from the funding it has allocated in the first three years of the strategy. Departments need to address the barriers to improving treatment and recovery services, including the needs of different cohorts of people, to support their long-term recovery from addiction. We were particularly concerned that drug use is increasing fastest in younger age groups but the number of young people (under 18) in treatment has fallen sharply. This also highlights the crucial need to better understand how to change behaviours of vulnerable young people and develop a holistic cross-government approach to prevention.