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Making the case: A practical guide to promoting drug and alcohol treatment and recovery services locally

A resource from DrugScope on behalf of the Recovery Partnership

Now, more than ever before, drug and alcohol services need to make friends and influence people. Over the last few years, we have seen big changes in policy and funding structures. Local decision makers - some of them in new roles - have much more say over how public money is spent. This is at a time when local budgets are being cut and there is a need for these decision makers to respond to their community’s concerns and priorities. At a national level, we have seen a consistently high level of interest in drug and alcohol services from successive governments. This is because politicians have been persuaded by the build up of evidence that our sector can save lives, improve health, cut crime and tackle social exclusion. Investment in drug and alcohol services is also cost effective, saving a much bigger outlay of public money further down the line.

Until recently, a central budget was set aside for drug treatment. Since April 2013, this has been absorbed into a general public health budget, with former drug and alcohol money comprising as much as a third of the pot of money available to local Directors of Public Health. However, drugs and alcohol is now just one of over 20 public health responsibilities. Of course, the work of drug and alcohol services contributes to many other public health outcomes - but the onus is on us to ensure that those connections are made.

Similarly, elected Police and Crime Commissioners will be balancing competing demands and priorities. We need to be actively reminding them of the huge impact that our work can have in cutting crime and improving community safety.

Drug and alcohol services may not top the list of priorities in the community or for decision makers with responsibilities for broad areas like public health or community safety. Local politicians, broadcasters and newspapers may hold misperceptions and prejudices about our services and the people that they work with. This can create or reinforce barriers to community support.

Localism creates opportunities, but also, in a period of austerity, a real and present risk of disinvestment. While DrugScope’s State of the Sector 2013 survey for the Recovery Partnership did not pick up evidence of widespread disinvestment to date, it did show that there are grounds for real concern going forward, with around a third of services reporting a decrease in their funding; decreases in numbers of paid frontline staff and greater use of volunteers; and barriers to accessing ‘recovery capital’ - things like housing, employment and mental health services.

With local authorities and other budget holders facing deep cuts to their budgets, it will not help our cause locally if we are not seen to be responding flexibly and creatively at a time that is challenging for many sectors and services. We need to be highlighting all the innovative work that is going on in communities. As a sector we have a proud history of adaptation and resilience; of achieving a great deal for people with limited resources. But this is only possible up to a point and we need to campaign to ensure sufficient investment in every local area, to ensure people who need help have access to world class services and to enable us to ‘build recovery in communities’. We have plenty to work with. First, we have an impressive ‘evidence base’ that amply demonstrates the positive impact of our services. Second, we have a rich reserve of ‘narrative evidence’ - including the personal stories and testimonies of service users - and we know how effective this can be in winning hearts and minds. Thirdly, the community may be more supportive than we realise. A survey of the general public conducted by ICM for DrugScope in 2009 found that nine out of ten people believed that “people who have become addicted to drugs need help and support to get their lives back on track” and over three quarters said that investment in drug treatment is “a sensible use of government money.” It is important that we mobilise these resources in response to the challenges of the times. This guide will help you to do that.