Having read Dame Carol Black’s ‘Review of drugs part two’ several times now and having listened to her present and answer questions on the report, I find myself increasingly frustrated. Not at Dame Carol Black but within myself. The inadequacies of the existing system are laid bare for all to see within the report. Crucial areas that must be addressed are explained and thirty-two recommendations are detailed. Drug treatment and recovery support, funding, commissioning, diversion, employment, housing, mental and physical health, prevention, intervention and research, this report has recommendations for them all. And it is right and proper that we tackle drug policy in this way. Patching won’t do, we need reforms on a grand scale and in the hands of the people best placed to make them effective. For too long it has been designated as a matter for the judicial system and our health services have been left to pick up the pieces. This report puts health care at the heart of the solution and should be commended for doing so.
But apart from making recommendations there is nothing else the report or I can do and that is the frustration. Dame Carol Black has been absolutely clear that if the UK Government starts picking and choosing which of her thirty-two recommendations to implement then it won’t work, and I applaud her for saying that. Too often we make do and mend with policies that need ripped up and rewritten. And the Misuse of Drugs act 1971 is a case in point. For fifty years it has made the situation worse. But to expect the UK Government to have a sudden blinding flash of understanding and compassion is naïve. They won’t implement many of the recommendations, they will pick a few, dress up a few others, pay lip service to some and ignore the rest. And I say that with confidence and a heavy heart.
Confidence, because the UK Government just don’t get the issue of drug addiction or harm. And while the administration of it is held within the Home Office that shall continue to be the case. And a heavy heart because as people within the drug rehabilitation community keep telling me, ‘you keep on talking and we keep on dying’.
This is not Dame Carol Black’s fault. Her remit was deliberately precise. She was not allowed to recommend any new legislation. Which effectively neuters her report. How can she be expected to identify improvements in a system which is tied up and gagged by the law if she can’t suggest changes to the law? But Dame Carol Black has a good go at that by recommending a new structure for the mechanics of government, which if it was allowed to function could within itself produce the required legislation. And I am sure Dame Carol Black would be very happy with that outcome. She feeds in all the good ideas and the UK Government put them through a mincer and come up with the solutions she proposed, implements them and take the credit. To be honest I would be more than happy if that happened. But I just can’t see it because one recommendation is the creation of a new central Drugs Unit. This unit will be placed “in whatever department or joint arrangement seems appropriate”. Unless that department is the Department for Health and Social Care then it is in my opinion a nonstarter. The intransigence of the Home Office has been a feature of this UK Government and I can’t see that changing any day now. I expect warm words for Dame Carol Black’s report, which could be seen as progress, but I don’t expect the UK Government will do anything other than launch enquiries, form committees, divert the responsibility and talk about budgets and constraints. The UK Home Office is where good ideas go to die.
At the start of her report Dame Carol Black says the UK ‘Government faces an unavoidable choice: invest in tackling the problem or keep paying for the consequences. A whole-system approach is needed’. And she is absolutely correct. So, go on Kit Malthouse, agree to all thirty two recommendations, fund them and put the power of implementation into the appropriate departments and prove me one hundred percent wrong, please.