The preliminary conclusions of the Independent Drug Commission for Brighton and Hove raise some interesting issues, worthy of debate, but overall the report is an opportunity missed. This post is basically my personal response to the Commission’s consultation.
The Commission addressed four issues:
- Are the current strategies to prevent drug related deaths sufficient to achieve a significant reduction in the coming years?
- Are the policing, prosecution and sentencing strategies currently pursued, effective in reducing drug related harm?
- Are we doing enough to protect young people and to enable them to make informed decisions around drug use and involvement in drug markets?
- To what extent does the treatment system meet the treatment and recovery needs of the citizens of Brighton & Hove?
Unfortunately, the report is presented in a vacuum, giving no acknowledgement of the most radical change in national drug strategy for a generation which has called for a treatment revolution and the championing of abstinence. The words “abstinence”, “abstain”, even “drug free” do not appear in the report once. By ignoring the national context, the report is immediately undermined, and is, at best, of academic interest.
My disappointment with the preliminary conclusions focuses on the first and fourth points above and can be summarised by two points: it lacks ambition, and the presentation of the issues does not create the right platform for a proper debate on how to enhance progress in drug treatment.
Just 12% of those entering treatment services in Brighton “left the treatment system in a planned way, having overcome their dependency”. This compares to a national figure of 15%. The report is correct to say that “For the system to remain sustainable, the number of successful exits from the treatment system must keep pace with the number of new clients registered. If too many clients are retained in the system for too long, the system will become log-jammed. The Health and Well Being Board needs to find ways to increase the numbers successfully treated each year and support their recovery in order to prevent relapses and a return to dependence, both on drugs and on the treatment system”.
Sadly, this conclusion is not supported by a formal recommendation. It is almost an afterthought, appearing on page 22 of the 23 page report. It illustrates a lack of ambition. This issue should be upfront and should set the tone for the rest of the report, creating the climate where the more sensationalist issues, such as consumption rooms, could have been dealt with in the context of recovery and abstinence.
A bold ambition, of say 30% or 40% leaving treatment drug free, would have been a defining contribution to the debate and the development of services in Brighton. Such an approach would be right for clients, it would help them achieve their aspirations, and would better prepare them to cope with the fundamental changes we are experiencing in welfare reform. A failure to address the addiction of a sizeable cohort will result in them finding themselves further outside the structures of society with all the predictable consequences for them, their families and society at large.
The presentation of the report attracted predictable, yet avoidable, headlines. The media led on consumption rooms. How different it could have been had the report recommended a treatment revolution locally, with the ambition that Brighton will replace the unwanted headline of “drug death capital” to the “recovery capital” of the UK.
That would have created a climate where more controversial steps could have been introduced as part of a process aimed at getting people into recovery and abstinence.
I hope that the Commission will look again at its report, delay the final report if necessary so that it can strengthen its recommendations and thereby becoming a defining point in the evolution of drug policy locally and the start of a real treatment revolution.