Drug treatment services are “disappearing” in some areas because of government funding cuts, a major report has concluded.
A “prolonged” funding shortage has led to a loss of expertise and capacity – while the “county lines” drug-dealing method is growing, the report said.
Dame Carol Black, the report’s author, said the impact of illegal drugs costs society over £19bn a year in England.
The government said it was taking “tough action” to combat illegal drugs.
Dame Carol, who was commissioned by the Home Office to review drug supply and demand in the UK, said the funding shortage had contributed to a “perfect storm” which would “abate” only if the government took action.
She said other concerns included an increased supply of illegal drugs, greater purity and easier access to the substances.
The “widespread” use of children to supply drugs was the “most alarming” recent development, Dame Carol added.
Her report also found about three million people took drugs in England and Wales last year.
Dame Carol said: “Previous governments have de-prioritised these problems.
“I hope that the first phase of this review… will provide a firm platform for decisive action by the new government.”
Weathering the ‘perfect storm’
The key conclusion of Dame Carol Black’s report on illegal drugs – that a “perfect storm” has developed that can be abated only through government intervention – is based on compelling evidence from an impressive array of statistics and information.
The headline figure – the £19bn cost to society of illicit drugs in England – is designed to act as a wake-up call.
It is about half of the National Crime Agency estimate of the total cost of serious and organised crime to the UK economy and around three times as much as the cost of treating and dealing with the effects of obesity in England.
There is no simple solution to reducing the economic costs of drug-taking, not to mention the human toll, but Dame Carol indicates there must be investment in treatment.
A report from Public Health England in 2014 found that every pound spent on drug treatment saved £2.50 in costs to society.
However, her review raises more questions than answers about the overall effectiveness of law enforcement activity on illicit drugs, saying crackdowns have little impact on supply and may increase violence by creating a gap in the market for dealers to battle over.
The report, which was released to coincide with a drugs summit held by the UK government in Glasgow, also said drug-related deaths are at an all-time high, while the market is becoming increasingly violent.
It found 300,000 people in England used the most harmful drugs – opiates and crack cocaine – last year.
According to the report, the illicit drugs market in the UK is worth £9.4bn a year.
But it costs society £19bn when health considerations, the cost of crime and societal impacts are combined.
UK drug misuse deaths
Rate per million of population
The review said the “county lines” model is now a widely used method for supplying the most serious drugs.
County lines is a tactic which sees gangs and distribution networks from cities move into smaller towns and use violence to overtake local drug dealers.
The model relies on children or other vulnerable people to sell drugs.
Crime minister Kit Malthouse, who will chair the Glasgow summit later, said: “The findings, which we will discuss today, are troubling and paint a stark picture of how illegal drugs are devastating lives and communities, and fuelling serious violence.
“We are already taking tough action to combat county lines and violent crime and to disrupt and prosecute the organised gangs that bring so much misery. But clearly we all need to do more.”