As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon spoke on behalf of the Opposition in a debate on the human and financial cost of drug addiction. In her speech, Sharon highlighted the damning figures around the cost of drug addiction but also the worrying impact of the Government's cuts to public health budgets which have had an impact on local services.
You can read the full debate here: Human and Financial Cost of Drug Addiction Westminster Hall
You can read Sharon's speech below:
Let me start by thanking the hon. Member for South Thanet (Craig Mackinlay) for securing this important debate, and for his excellent opening speech, which laid out all the human and associated monetary costs that drug addiction costs society and indeed the Exchequer. His figures are even greater than the ones I will be citing in my contribution, which is perhaps because he included all classes of drugs. I will only be citing figures for class A drugs, but that shows the enormity of the costs that we are dealing with today.
While there is a very important debate going on in the main Chamber, it is welcome to see the number of MPs here today to discuss this important issue. We have had many excellent contributions to the debate, including from the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), the hon. Members for Reigate (Crispin Blunt), for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan) and for Henley (John Howell), and the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden), who is the Scottish National party spokesperson; he made a pertinent and moving speech, and I commend him for that. They all made strong and thought-provoking speeches, and we have had some excellent interventions. I thank all Members for taking the time to set out their positions and thoughts on drug addiction and the costs to society.
As we have heard, drug addiction is one of the most deeply concerning issues we face today. Drug addiction, in its many guises, can blight communities and the lives of so many people, which is why it is vital that policy is developed to significantly reduce the harm that addiction can inflict on individuals and communities. According to Home Office figures, the number of people taking drugs has fallen significantly over the past decade. That is to be welcomed. Reducing the number of people taking drugs is a step in the right direction to not only improve the health of the nation but reduce crime and pressures on our public services.
Sadly, if we scratch the surface, we unveil more uncomfortable truths that the Government must face. In 2016, there were a total of 2,593 drug misuse deaths involving illegal drugs—the highest number since comparable records began in 1993. That trend in avoidable deaths is reflected across both genders. However, for men the drug misuse mortality rate has jumped sharply over the last three years and reached a new peak of 67.1 deaths per million people—another high since records began in 1993. The female rate is less pronounced but is also at an all-time high.
Across Europe, it is estimated that a total of 8,441 deaths occurred due to drug overdose in 2015, mainly from heroin or other opioids. Here in the UK, we come out on top with the highest percentage of those deaths, at 31%. That is absolutely damning, especially when the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs stated in a report last year that England alone saw an increase of 58% in opioid deaths between 2012 and 2015. Much of that is put down to ageing users of heroin and opioids, which begs the question: what are the Government doing to address the often complex social care needs of drug addicts?
It is not only the deaths that occur from drug misuse and addiction that are concerning, but also the costs to society in general, as we heard from the hon. Member for South Thanet. In terms of monetary costs, it is estimated that class A drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine cost us £15.4 billion a year, which is £44,231 per problematic user. Broken down, that figure is roughly £13.86 billion on social and economic costs, £535 million on drug arrests and £488 million on the NHS dealing with mortality and morbidity and providing acute treatment and support for mental health and behavioural disorders associated with drug misuse. As I said, that is just for class A drugs. When we include all classes of drugs, the sums increase substantially, as has been set out in detail.
Mary Glindon (North Tyneside) (Lab)
Does my hon. Friend agree with the drugs, alcohol and justice cross-party parliamentary group that, to reduce alcohol and drugs-related deaths and illnesses, a co-ordinated harm reduction strategy needs to be prioritised?
It is no wonder, when we go off all these figures, that earlier this year the UK was deemed the overdose capital of Europe and is now seen internationally as having serious shortcomings when it comes to addressing addiction and drug misuse. What are the Government going to do to address these problems? I am sure the Minister will cite the recent publication of the drugs strategy in the summer. As he will know, Opposition Members welcomed the strategy, but it left us wanting. There is much to be welcomed in it, but it is clear that what was announced has not moved us on any further from what was happening in 2010 and now works within a seriously reduced financial envelope due to short-sighted cuts to public health budgets.
The Minister knows all too well that public health budgets have been decimated, with an estimated £800 million expected to be siphoned out of local budgets by 2021. That has meant drug rehabilitation services being closed and budgets to tackle drug abuse cut, all against a backdrop of an NHS under significant pressure. Labour’s analysis of figures published by the Department for Communities and Local Government shows that this year we will see 106 councils reduce drug treatment and prevention budgets by a total of £28.4 million, 95 councils reduce alcohol treatment and prevention, at a total of £6.5 million, and 70 local authorities reduce drug and alcohol services for children, at a total of £8.3 million. That works out at a total reduction of £43.3 million imposed by the Minister’s Government on a whole host of services created to prevent and treat addiction problems. Those figures are unavoidable and shameful. We should be putting greater emphasis on the radical upgrade in public health and prevention promised in the “Five Year Forward View” in 2014.
The Minister cannot come before us today and honestly say that his Government are improving services and seriously addressing this issue when they are overseeing such significant cuts that are rolling back provision on addiction services. It is not just me or Labour making that case, but also the likes of the chief executive of Collective Voices, Paul Hayes, who said earlier this year:
“The more we disinvest in treatment, as we are doing at the moment, the more we will put increasing numbers of people at risk of early avoidable deaths.”
The Minister has the power to go back to his Department and ensure that these avoidable deaths are avoided and the unnecessary losses of life halted.
The Government’s failure to seriously get to grips with the issue of drug addiction and the sad outcomes associated with it is shaming us across the world. Yasmin Batliwala, chair of the Westminster Drug Project, was recently reported as saying:
“We once had services that led the way.”
She went on:
“We now need to do a lot to catch up with countries in the developing world that are doing a lot more for their service users. The sign of a civilised society is how it cares for its most vulnerable.”
The Minister needs to acknowledge that his Government are overseeing such a negative and backwards approach to prevention, instead of taking radical steps to address and prevent drug addiction.
It is high time this Government seriously came to terms with the actions they have taken over the last few years on public health and rethink their short-sighted approach. Otherwise, we will see the figures that I quoted at the beginning of my speech become ever worse under their watch. The people who struggle and battle with addiction deserve and need our support, not just for them, to improve their lives, but for the rest of society, so that we can finally ensure that no one’s life is blighted by drug addiction.