Government to set up new unit to tackle drug misuse in society

A new drugs unit will be set up to help end illegal drug-related illness and deaths, the Government has announced.

The Joint Combating Drugs Unit will combine multiple Government departments, including the Department of Health and Social Care, Home Office, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, Department for Work and Pensions, Department for Education and Ministry of Justice, to help tackle drug misuse across society.

It comes as the second part of Dame Carol Black’s Independent Review of Drugs is released.

Her findings set out more than 30 recommendations to Government to help overcome the harm drugs have caused to individuals, families and communities across the country.

Dame Carol’s report calls for significant investment in the drug treatment and recovery system so that more people can get the support they need.

The recommendations made in the report include investing more than £550 million in extra funding for drug treatment in the community, and the appointment of a minister on drug policy to hold the Government to account on its efforts.

It also recommends drug addiction be recognised as a chronic health condition which requires long-term follow-up.

Dame Carol said the Government faces an “unavoidable choice” when it comes to illegal drug use in society.

She said: “Invest in tackling the problem or keep paying for the consequences. A whole-system approach is needed and this part of my review offers concrete proposals, deliverable within this Parliament, to achieve this.”

Matt Hancock affair accusations
Health Secretary Sajid Javid (Aaron Chown/PA)

Health Secretary Sajid Javid welcomed the review’s findings.

He said: “When I first commissioned Dame Carol to do this review as Home Secretary, we knew the sale and use of drugs drives serious violence and homelessness but this review shows that the health implications are just as devastating.

“Tackling this issue requires strong collaboration across Government and the new specialist Joint Combating Drugs Unit will help us to do just that.

“We will look closely at these recommendations and publish an initial response shortly on the urgent action we can take to turn the tide on drug-related deaths and get more people access to higher quality services.”

Responding to the review, Clare Taylor, national director of operations at social care charity Turning Point, said the recommendations for increased funding and workforce standards are long overdue.

She said: “We welcome Dame Carol Black’s recommendation that the Government prioritise much needed investment in treatment, stable housing, employment opportunities for people in recovery and improved joint working across mental health and substance misuse services.

“The proposals for increased professionalisation of the workforce are much needed and we are pleased to see that the review acknowledges the value added by people who’ve experienced addiction themselves working alongside clinicians to support others in their recovery.

“Drug related deaths, which we know are preventable, are at an all time high and the status quo is simply not acceptable. We hope that this review will spur the Government to prioritise efforts to prevent the tragic loss of life and the harm done to families and communities by drugs.”

The first phase of the review, published in February last year, estimated there were 300,000 opiate or crack users in England, and around one million people using cocaine per year.

Meanwhile, drug misuse poisoning deaths are at a record high, having increased by nearly 80% since 2012.

It also determined the illicit drugs market in the UK is worth £9.4 billion a year, but costs society more than double that figure.

If health considerations, the cost of crime and societal impacts are combined, the total cost of illegal drugs is £19 billion annually.