Drugs?Prevention or Addiction 14 June 2001

Alison Halford:

Peter Black’s contribution was timely. I find it depressing that so little has been achieved over the years, despite the fact that government and also now the Assembly have put so much money into the problem. We need radical thinking. As a police officer in 1968, I remember young drug-takers in the Crypt in London playing with their syringes and the walls were spattered with blood. In 1974 I was sent to Baltimore as a chief inspector to find out if police had any role to play in the education of children. In Baltimore I looked at a range of projects, such as programmes to give methadone to addicts and those that attempted to scare potential users to death. Millions of dollars were spent on projects. What have we achieved in 27 years? Enforcement does not work. Early education seems to be the only way of doing it in America. The message must be to start educating children as young as three, four or five years old. Assembly Members should start considering what is available in monitoring rehabilitation centres. We must put in progress plans where treatment can be given early. I will find out whether there are any waiting lists or log jams in my constituency and consider what we can do to ensure that the treatment is available if enforcement has not worked. Congratulations, Peter, on raising this issue. The Assembly can, and must, do more..


The Deputy Minister for Health (Brian Gibbons):

I thank Peter for raising this important issue. All parts of Wales are affected by the joint problem of drug and alcohol abuse, but it is fair to say that the problem is worst in socially and economically deprived communities. Statistics show that between 35 and 45 young men died in Wales every year during the last decade or so directly from drug problems. However, that is only the tip of the iceberg. In my community alone, four or five young men have died from drug-related problems in the last few of years, and many more were killed indirectly as a result of this enormous problem.

In this context, I am not sure that we can make as narrow a definition of drugs and alcohol as David Melding asked us to do. While there are specific problems and specific therapeutic approaches for both, many of the worst problems are related to the dual abuse of drugs and alcohol. That causes the suffering not only of these young people but of the community in which they live. That has created ravages in terms of youth disaffection, crime and social disorder.

As Peter said, the emphasis on prevention is important. It is to nobody’s advantage to have to pick up the pieces when terrible havoc, misery and hardship is created. I was surprised at his statement that every £1 spent on drug prevention services saves £3 on criminal justice costs. My impression is—and I have not looked at the statistics—that the potential savings are considerably more when one considers damage to property and so on. That is a woeful underestimate of what can be achieved if we are successful in conveying the message of prevention.

Peter alluded to our Welsh substance abuse strategy, which was launched in May 2000. It notes four key aims, which are worth highlighting. The first is prevention and helping children, young people and adults to resist substance abuse and so achieve their full potential in society. It also involves promoting healthy, sensible drinking within the overall context of a healthy lifestyle. It is significant that the strategy’s first aim is to deal with this issue. The second aim is to help families and communities to protect themselves against drug-related anti-social and criminal behaviour. The third aim is to provide treatment and help to all those involved in substance abuse, to overcome their addiction. The fourth aim is to stifle the general availability of drugs. The lifetime use of illicit drugs by 15 to 16-year-olds more or less doubled between 1990 and 1996. That amply demonstrates the ease of access to drugs. However, encouragingly, there was a slight decrease in those figures in 1998. That may be evidence that successful preventive work is taking place. However, this is not only a preventive strategy based on the narrow personal model, it addresses social, educational and economic factors, which are important determinants of the likelihood of substance abuse among individuals and in their communities.

Those four aims relate to the broader perspective. As Peter correctly said, substance abuse is not only a health issue, it is a law and order, education and housing issue. The points about homelessness were well made. Substance abuse is also a problem in terms of social and economic renewal and regeneration. Unless we tackle all those areas and bring all of the issues together, we will not be in a position to deal effectively with this problem.

12:05 p.m.

Prevention is the priority. Working with young people is central to that, particularly with those under the age of 25. To support this, we have a strategic prevention action plan for drugs and alcohol in Wales, which outlines a range of prevention activities. Education has an important role to play. The Assembly is in the process of revising its guidance to schools on substance abuse.

Alongside the prevention work, we must realise that the provision of treatment is also important. As well as dealing with immediate problems, treatment is a way of preventing future problems. Evidence shows that treatment can work for individuals, and it can also benefit their families and communities. Equally, we realise that living in healthy, stable families in thriving communities is therapeutic for people with drug and substance abuse problems. This is why initiatives such as Communities First are so important in dealing with this problem at the source.

Spending on drug-related problems in Wales has increased. Peter provided a considerable amount of information on that. In terms of the crime prevention aspect of the problem, you will remember that, during the last Parliament, the Government brought forward the Proceeds of Crime Bill. This Bill is intended to establish a criminal assets recovery agency, the purpose of which is to deprive criminals of their ill-gotten gains. As Peter said, David Blunkett, in his new post at the Home Office, has issued tough statements on crime and drug abuse. We will follow with interest what happens in that area. There is nothing more galling or frustrating to those of us who live in communities where drug abuse is a problem than seeing people drive by dressed up to the nines in four-by-four vehicles to dish out death and destruction to so many young people.

Peter Black has highlighted his active interest in this area. It is important to emphasise what is being done in the Swansea area, such as the school-based prevention programme called Avoiding Drugs: Solutions. Members will also know that, in Neath Port Talbot, there is 10-week training programme for youth leaders on various aspects of prevention work in health issues, including substance abuse. David Lloyd will know of the work of the primary substance abuse liaison team in the Neath Port Talbot, Swansea and Bridgend areas. It is an innovative, primary care and community-based drug treatment service. There is also the secondary tier service provision in Swansea, provided by Dr Lyn Jones. There is a framework of active response in our communities, but more resources need to be invested. I hope that, as the money allocated to health increases, this area will benefit.

A recent article in The Observer quoted a heroin addict as saying that

‘Where there’s no hope . . . there’s always dope’.

That is a paraphrase of a slogan that appeared after the 1984 miners’ strike on a wall in Caerau, which is in Janice Gregory’s constituency and just over the mountain from my village. The original slogan read

‘There is no hope, smoke dope’.

If we are to challenge drug addiction, we must be tough on its causes as well as respond to the problem itself.

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