1 November 2001

Substance Misuse

Q1 Alison Halford:

What progress has been made in tackling substance misuse in Wales? (OAQ13239)

The Minister for Health and Social Services (Jane Hutt):

The Welsh substance misuse strategy was launched last year following extensive development, and consultation with experts from all the relevant services in Wales. I have established a new advisory panel on substance misuse, and enhanced the Assembly’s ability to support and advise those working in the area of substance misuse by bringing the Welsh drug and alcohol unit into the Assembly. The strategy is being delivered locally by five drug and alcohol action teams in Wales.

Alison Halford:

I congratulate you on all your initiatives. Notwithstanding, heroin use in Wales has unexpectedly increased over the past few months and drug charities report a rise in heroin use from four to 84 cases a year. Catherine Zeta Jones recently claimed that it is easier to get drugs than beer in parts of Wales. Drugs Aid states that it is increasingly difficult to find detox beds. It is known that once an addict is turned away, he or she may never apply for help again. Can you assure me that treatment, where possible, will be immediately available and comprehensive?

Jane Hutt:

This is a serious matter, particularly for our young people. We have substantially increased direct Assembly expenditure on drug and alcohol initiatives. The £500,000 additional funding in last week’s draft budget to support drug rehabilitation and treatment services is of key importance. Clearly that means detox beds and the residential and rehabilitation projects that we support in Wales. It also means the community detox projects that are being developed by the voluntary sector. I assure you that this is an issue that we are all addressing seriously, particularly the increased use of heroin.

David Davies:

Is it not a paradox that, on the one hand, you are happy to spend millions of pounds discouraging people from smoking and, on the other, your colleagues in the Westminster Government are moving towards legalising soft drugs? Also, if this is a serious matter, as you claim, can you tell us where your Cabinet colleagues are?

Jane Hutt:

You know, David, that the reclassification of cannabis is a matter for the Home Office. It will be reclassified from a class B to a class C drug, which is different from decriminalisation or legalisation. Cannabis will remain a controlled drug and its use a criminal offence. We must concentrate on the key issue, and that is Alison’s point about heroine use; we should target our attention on tackling that scourge of young people in Wales.

John Griffiths:

The regulations and national minimum standards for care homes for younger adults will create considerable challenges for the six registered residential care homes in Wales specialising in substance misuse. Building work, for example, will be costly. Will you investigate this situation and how we may assist the care providers to overcome these difficulties?

Jane Hutt:

Under our grant scheme we support a number of residential rehabilitation centres in Wales. The national minimum standards that have been out to consultation under the Care Standards Act 2000 are a matter for concern for all the residential units in Wales, in all the care sectors. However, this is a consultation exercise concerning what we can achieve in partnership with the care sector. It is about the longer term, as well as the short-term standards that we must achieve. I can assure you that we will consult closely to ensure that our services are not affected.

Jocelyn Davies:

Point of order. Here we are in Plenary and no Ministers are present except for one. There is no Minister for Assembly Business—

The Presiding Officer:

Order. I will take points of order arising from questions immediately after questions.

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