New unit to tackle illegal drug use after govt warned ‘invest or pay for the consequences’

The government is launching a new drugs unit to help end illness and deaths related to illegal substances.

The Joint Combating Drugs Unit will combine the efforts of multiple government departments – including the Department of Health and Social Care, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Home Office – to look at tackling drug misuse across the country.

It follows the release of the second part of Dame Carol Black’s Independent Review of Drugs.

Dame Carol’s report sets out 30 recommendations to the government to help overcome the harm drugs have caused to individuals, families and communities – one of which is the creation of a new government unit.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the new body would ensure “strong collaboration” on the issue of drug recovery.

Dame Carol said the government faces an “unavoidable choice” when it comes to illegal drug use in society and calls for “significant investment” in treatment.

She also adds that drug addiction must be treated as a chronic health condition.

The recommendations in Dame Carol’s report include:

• Increasing funding for drug treatment in the community by over £550m over five years
• The introduction of a Commissioning Quality Standard to ensure comprehensive treatment services are available
• The creation of a new strategy to increase the number of professionally qualified drug treatment staff including psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, nurses and social workers
• Action to help individuals caught up in the criminal justice system due to drugs-related offences into treatment and to maximise the use of community sentence treatment requirements
• An assurance that everyone leaving prison has access to an ID and a bank account

Dame Carol said the government must “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,” she said.

The report is the second part of a two-stage review originally commissioned by Mr Javid in 2019 when he was home secretary.

The first phase of the review, published in February 2020, estimated there were 300,000 opiate or crack users in England and that the drugs trade costs society around £19bn each year.

It also found drug misuse poisoning deaths are at a record high, increasing by nearly 80% since 2012.

Mr Javid welcomed the report’s findings.

“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,” he said.

“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.”

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