Drugs ruin lives. The street where I grew up in Bristol was the centre of the local drugs trade, and I’ve seen first-hand the destructive impact they can have on people and the communities where they live. Addiction to drugs is thought to be linked to about half of all thefts, burglaries and robberies, and the use of powder cocaine alone drives a criminal market worth about £2bn.
People having a line of cocaine may not think that they’re causing anyone harm, or that they’re playing a part in a criminal enterprise, but they are actually the final link in a chain that has suffering, violence and exploitation at every stage.
Behind every illicit drug is a human cost: the “county lines” operations that increasingly involve young people, human trafficking and the use of “cuckooing”, where drug dealers target the most vulnerable and use their homes for criminal activity.
It’s clear the sale and use of drugs is driving serious violence and I commissioned Prof Dame Carol Black to undertake independent reviews to better understand the drugs market and current treatment system, so we can take targeted action and improve the treatment available. The illuminating reviews clearly show how great the harm from drugs can be, including the link between drugs and serious violence. This week, we have shown how we are going to take action.
I am glad to see the findings have shaped the new strategy to cut crime and reduce the demand for drugs by getting more people into treatment. Our 10-year drugs strategy, the most ambitious for a generation, sets out a bold long-term vision for how we’ll tackle drug crime, improve treatment and turn lives around.
It looks at both sides of the coin, at how we will reduce both the supply and the demand for illicit drugs. It shows how we will come down hard on supply by breaking up the drug-supply chains that cause so much misery, and through tough enforcement. Crucially, we’ll do more to make sure this enforcement will apply equally.
The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities has already raised the disproportionate impact of possession laws on young black people. It is so important to me that we put this injustice right, and we have committed to making the system fairer across the board.
But we will never solve this through enforcement alone. To reduce the misery drugs bring to communities and protect victims we have to also tackle the drivers of crime and get people off drugs for good. More than half of people dependent on the most harmful drugs – opiate and crack cocaine – are not engaged in treatment. So the strategy includes £780m of funding, the largest single increase ever, to give more people better quality treatment and more support to recover. We’re doing this because that is the only way we will cut crime and level up the poorest communities, which we know are disproportionately affected by drug-related crime.
We will also prevent people from becoming drug users in the first place, by making sure that there is early intervention for young people and families at the greatest risk, and that all children are provided with high-quality education on health and relationships.
This is the most ambitious strategy in a generation and will deliver 54,500 more treatment places, 24,000 more people into long-term drug-free recovery, and close 2,000 county lines. There is a huge opportunity to make a difference. One of my most pressing priorities in this role is tackling disparities of all kinds. Drug dependence often coexists with other health inequalities, such as poor mental health and homelessness, and sadly the most deprived areas face the most drug-driven crime and health harms.
So putting this strategy into action won’t just save and transform lives, it will also help us in our mission to level up communities across the country. Today shows our commitment to getting it right, and tackling a trade that has brought pain and grief to so many.