Addiction to drugs and alcohol wreck lives and devastate communities. The annual cost to society is enormous – £21 billion in alcohol and £15 billion in drugs. Equally shocking are the numbers of people affected. There are 300,000 addicted to opiates and crack with a further 1.6 million dependent upon alcohol in England alone. Perhaps more tragically, one in 37 children has a parent addicted to drugs.
For too long, we have failed to deal with this problem. Rather than getting people off drugs like heroin, we have parked them on substitutes like methadone. As for alcohol, despite affecting more people, only 7 per cent get any help.
The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) has seen the misery addiction can cause and yesterday we published a blueprint to transform treatment services as part of our Breakthrough Britain 2015 series.
Rehabs that get people clean and sober and help those affected back to work offer the best solution. This transformation can be seen when visiting places like the BAC O’Connor centre in Burton. People come in addicted, having lost everything, but with their support they leave drug-free and either in work or training.
Take John, who I met whilst visiting the BAC. He had started using drugs at 13 and failed at school, by 28 he had lived a decade of crime and welfare dependence. His cost to society ran into the hundreds of thousands. He was one of the lucky ones in our country, however, as he was eventually referred to rehab. He completed the BAC programme and is now studying for a degree.
It is to fund the expansion of places like this that the CSJ proposes a ‘penny on a unit’ Treatment Tax. It would only affect off-licences and would add two pence to a bottle of beer or nine pence to a bottle of wine by the end of the next Parliament. The £1billion it would raise could support the expansion of recovery services like the BAC and give us a chance at permanently reducing the massive cost addiction has on Britain.
Some will say, ‘why should the responsible drinker pay for the minority’? But the truth is we are already paying … in the costs to the NHS, in crime and in welfare dependency. This is a problem with a known solution; we cannot afford not to take action.