Addiction to drugs and alcohol takes a heavy toll on society. In 17 years running BAC O’Connor I have seen the impact, from crime, worklessness and strains on the NHS, to the price paid by individuals and their families. I have witnessed, however, people overcome their addiction and progress to lead full lives as contributing members of society. Provided with a little support to become drug and alcohol free, I have watched people transform their lives and become productive members of society.
Recent falls in drug and alcohol use in the wider population conceal a rising cost of addiction: more alcohol-related admissions and readmissions, more prescription drugs issued, and, a surge in use of ‘legal highs’. This is a social justice issue. Addiction can strike anyone but the harm of this situation is felt most keenly in poorer communities.
Our interim report, No Quick Fix, laid bare the costs, extent and changing nature of drug and alcohol addiction in the UK. We outlined how the Government’s 2010 Drug Strategy marked a welcome shift from a policy of maintaining addicts on substitute drugs to an ambition to help people lead drug-free lives. We have seen a rise in the use of mutual aid and the rhetoric of recovery now pervades strategy.
Yet while some of the rhetoric has been good, action has been poor. Abstinence from drugs and alcohol, which is key to achieving lasting recovery but is still not the marker by which we measure our success. Equally, rehabs are the most effective route to abstinence for many yet are still the preserve of the wealthy or the lucky few. Making the situation worse, we now have ‘legal highs’, often more dangerous and addictive than the drugs they seek to imitate, available to buy on high streets across the UK.
Our report lays out a programme for whoever next enters government, to tackle addiction and reduce its costs to society. We argue that priorities for the next Parliament should include: a small treatment tax of a penny on a unit is introduced by the end of the next Parliament to provide proper rehabilitation; reform to the welfare, criminal justice and health services to address the addiction problems which drain resources; and, a proper response to ‘legal highs’.
This project has been ably supported throughout by the Addictions Working Group, to which I extend my thanks. We have met regularly since 2012, taking evidence from academics, doctors, treatment professionals, and people with personal experience of addiction and recovery. We have toured the country visiting hospitals, schools, prisons, rehabs, community treatment centres, courts, Jobcentres, and the countless workplaces where people in recovery are contributing to society.
We know that people can recover from addiction. Our duty is to ensure that everyone is given the chance to recover and prevent people from falling into addiction in the first place. With the economic recovery well underway, we must also see that society recovers with it.
Noreen Oliver MBE Chairman of the Addictions Working Group