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No Quick Fix: Exposing the depth of Britain’s drug and alcohol problem

Breakthrough Britain II

Addiction and alcohol and drug abuse are taking a heavy toll on Britain. One in 20 adults in England (1.6 million) is dependent on alcohol1 and one in 100 (380,000) is addicted to heroin or crack cocaine. This human tragedy is accompanied by eye-watering economic costs. The annual bill to society is over £21 billion in alcohol-related harm and a £15 billion cost from illicit drugs.

There is a perception amongst some that alcohol and drug abuse are in remission. Our research shows the opposite. The costs to society of substance abuse are rising. Use of opiates and crack remains high and roughly one new drug enters the market each week. Alcohol-related admissions to hospital have more than doubled in a decade, costing the NHS more every year. Since the CSJ published Breakthrough Britain in 2007, the amount of opiate substitutes the state prescribes to heroin addicts has increased by 40 per cent. New ‘legal highs’ are entering the market at the rate of one a week, whilst ‘virtual currency’ is making it possible for illegal drugs to be bought and sold anonymously over the internet without fear of detection.

The consequences of addiction and abuse are dire with the effects felt most by those who are already highly vulnerable. There are communities across Britain that are still ravaged by drugs and alcohol. Alcohol and drug-related violence, domestic abuse, worklessness, child neglect, debt and educational failure, all disproportionately affect poorer communities and are regularly intertwined.

While government has promised to tackle these issues, too many barriers remain. An established interest has continuously prevented the Coalition Government from promoting the ambition that addicts should be helped to lead drug-free lives. Local authorities have cut funding to the most effective residential rehabilitation services whilst funding for ineffective programmes has been maintained.

There are reforms underway which present an opportunity to improve how addiction is tackled. As the reforms are presently constituted, however, there is a risk that they will fail to reach their full potential. There is a danger that the fight against addiction will be diluted by the wide focus of Public Health England, whose target outcomes of tackling alcohol and drug abuse must compete with numerous other concerns. Similarly, the Government’s drugs and alcohol payment-by-results pilots currently in operation are not focusing on helping addicts achieve full recovery and become drug free. This threatens to undermine the entire project’s laudable aims.