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LG picking up the bill for national anti-drug policy not an option

The government has today been criticised by two major organisations for its new drug strategy that aims to safeguard the vulnerable and stop substance misuse.

Released today by the Home Office, the strategy explains how the government will tackle the evolving drug problem in the UK. In particular, it highlights that reducing demand through deterrent work such as expanding the Alcohol and Drugs Education and Prevention Information Service for young people is a key target for the government.

On top of that, the government aims to restrict supply, as well as support recovery of addicts by ensuring they are given appropriate housing, employment and mental health services.

It also sets out an ambition to drive international action to strengthen the UK’s control at its borders and also understand global trends and share intelligence.

Home secretary Amber Rudd said: “This government has driven a tough law enforcement response in the UK and at our borders, but this must go hand in hand with prevention and recovery.

“This new strategy brings together police, health, community and global partners to clamp down on the illicit drug trade, safeguard the most vulnerable, and help those affected to turn their lives around.

“We must follow through with our commitment to work together towards a common goal: a society free from the harms caused by drugs.”

Policy going in wrong direction

But now, the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) has criticised certain aspects of the strategy, saying that Rudd’s hard line on criminal justice is taking policy in the wrong direction.

“The new government strategy represents a small step in the right direction, and we take some encouragement from a renewed focus on the importance of evidence-based drug treatment services and moves to address underlying factors such as inadequate housing, unemployment and mental health problems which often prevent people from recovering from problem drug use,” said Shirley Cramer CBE, chief executive of the RSPH.

“However, it falls far short of the fundamental reorientation of policy towards public health and away from criminal justice needed to tackle rising drug harm.”

Cramer also argued that decriminalisation of drug possession and use is a critical enabler that would enable drug treatment services to reach as many people as possible as effectively as possible.

“Instead, the government still continues to lead with unhelpful rhetoric about “tough law enforcement” that contributes to the marginalisation and stigmatisation of vulnerable drug users, while also pushing through severe cuts to local authority public health budgets that undermine their ability to deliver drug treatment services.”

Councils should not pick up bill for national policies

And Cllr Izzi Seccombe, chairman of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board, said that local government would still continue to work with national government to deliver on the shared ambition to support the individuals and families affected by drug abuse.

But Cllr Seccombe was also vocal about the effect that cuts had had on councils’ ability to lessen the impact of drug misuse in local areas.

“We have long argued that reductions by central government to the public health grant in local government that is used to fund drug and alcohol prevention and treatment services is a short-term approach and one that will only compound acute pressures for criminal justice and NHS services further down the line,” she said.

“Leaving councils to pick up the bill for new national policies while being handed further spending reductions cannot be an option,” Cllr Seccombe concluded. “Pressure will be placed on already stretched local services if the government fails to fully assess the impact of their funding decisions.”

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