The British government has released the second phase of an independent review into drug misuse, and, unsurprisingly, the results are damning.
The report, conducted by Dame Carol Black, lays bare the need to increase investment U.K. wide in treatment procedures for drug addicts, rehabilitation services, a focus on early intervention, and treatment over criminal prosecution.
Despite the freshness of the report, its findings are not surprising to those within the industry.
The system started to fail in 2010 when the drug policy changed from harm minimisation to recovery-based. Millions of people have been taken out of substance misuse services over the past decade.
Old school, experienced drugs workers have been left frustrated by the system, the lack of care and provisions and have since left drug services. Now, new staff who come on board have no life experiences, are fresh out of university, and have no fundamental or practical drug knowledge.
Truthfully, the commissioning of new services is farcical; it's always been about the cheapest services Public Health Services can get. The pot of money available each financial year needs to be split between the various social care issues, i.e., older people's needs and substance users.
If you want to go to rehab in the U.K., it's at least a 3-6 month wait, with so much paperwork involved to justify why the money should go to a substance abuser and not for eldercare. This has to then go to a panel that makes the decision.
The government's great web of red tape makes any policy review a long and arduous process. There are currently six different departments involved in narcotics, and all of this oversight means any real progress is hampered by bureaucracy.
Investment in recovery and treatment services needs significant financial investment from the U.K. government – increasing the size of the workforce as well as expertise. And this money should be diverted to drug treatment only and not as general health care funds.
The report notes that treatment facilities are rapid to discharge. This is because they're measured on a national league table. Every quarter, a certain amount of people need to be released to maintain funding. This is why the door is revolving, and people are falling through the cracks.
In 2009, the key workers' national average caseload was 40 clients. Average caseloads are now sitting at 80-90 per worker.
Until the last few years, the British system was "payment by results," meaning you got released a small budget, and each quarter if you got your positive discharges, you were then paid for that. If the client returns to service within six months, then that money was taken off you.
Thankfully, that model is being phased out, but we now have a model where caseworkers get a small lump sum, then a 12-month funding budget only for specific needs as they arise. For example, Derby was recently given a 12-month budget for two staff members to work with rough sleepers. After 12 months, that funding is gone. The problem is still there, but the staff is not.
Staff do not have the time to care; the priority is paperwork. The role used to be 45 minutes face-to-face and 15 minutes admin per case. That's now totally flipped.
It's worth noting that the idea of common-sense drugs legislation was not explored in the study. This is probably due to the government's preference for prevention as opposed to treatment. Which, it's clear, is a policy that's not working. Drug-related deaths have risen year on year since 2012.
In response, the government has pointed to an additional £80 million of new funding to drug treatment, but whether or not the Treasury follows through on this commitment remains to be seen.
There needs to be more investment in treatment, better leadership, and a focus on improving housing and employment opportunities. The pandemic has forced a shift in perspective, and it's clear we need drastic financial and social intervention across the U.K. to stop our drugs crisis from getting any worse.
EZTest believes harm minimisation is one of the best ways to reduce the risks of street drugs. Our mission is to make it easy for substance takers to identify the purity of and the cutting agents present in their drugs and use this information to make better-informed choices.