Illicit drug use is engrained in British culture, with over a third of the population aged 15-59 years estimated to have taken drugs at some point in their lives. In 2015-16, an estimated 2.7 million people (8.4 per cent), aged between 16 and 59 years in England and Wales, had used an illicit drug in the past year. This figure has reduced overall during the last decade but has remained stable over the last seven years. The trend is similar for younger people, but the proportion taking drugs is higher, 18 per cent of 16-24 year olds. Although fewer people are using drugs than 10 to 15 years ago, an increase in hospital admissions and drug-related deaths indicates that drug-related harms are increasing.
The social and economic cost of drug use and supply to society is estimated to be around £10.7 billion per year, of which £6 billion is attributed to drug-related crime. Currently, there are no estimates of the cost of drug misuse in Cheshire West and Chester, however the National Treatment Agency estimates that any drug addict not in treatment costs society, on average, £26,074 per year. Given this, the cost to local authorities and partner organisations will be significant, at a time when public sector resources are being reduced.
Local action on drug misuse is guided by the National Drug Strategy 2017 and the Modern Crime Prevention Strategy 2016. These have been used to inform and shape our local response. Our main focus for reducing drug misuse within our community will be on prevention and early intervention and our strategy reflects the key themes nationally; reducing demand, restricting supply and building recovery.
The landscape for drug use is changing and we need to be able to continually adapt to respond to the latest challenges in drug use. For example, New Psychoactive Substances (NPS, formally known as 'legal highs') have created new and diverse challenges for tackling drug misuse. Our strategy will cover illicit and other harmful drugs, ranging from opiates, crack, powder cocaine, ecstasy, new psychoactive substances and cannabis, through to image or performance enhancing drugs, and misuse of prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Polysubstance misuse (using more than one harmful substance) is a common occurrence, often involving alcohol and drugs, hence this strategy is closely linked to the Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy and it is recommended that anyone interested in substance misuse uses the two documents together.
Drug misuse is associated with the night-time economy, however, most drugs will be taken at home and there is no one type of person who misuses drugs. However, several groups are identified in their search literature as being at high risk of drug misuse. These include: young people, offenders, the homeless, veterans, sex workers, families of drug users, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) community, victims of intimate partner violence and a growing number of older people, in particular, long-term drug users. Therefore, our local strategy recognises the need to work with vulnerable groups to ensure they do not get drawn into illicit or harmful drug use.
The harms caused by drug misuse are far-reaching and affect our lives at every level. Harms include health issues, drug dependency, crime committed to fuel drug dependence, organised criminality, violence and exploitation, and irreparable damage and loss to communities, families and individuals. The harm drug misuse causes can be seen clearly in the headline statistics from the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment, for example:
- An estimated 15,629 adults aged 15-59 years in Cheshire West and Chester have taken an illicit drug in the last year
- Locally, there were 1,485 clients in treatment for drug misuse during 2016-17
- During 2016-17, there were 9,564 syringe exchange transactions in Cheshire West and Chester. People using this service were taking psychoactive drugs, steroids and image or performance enhancing drugs
- In Cheshire West and Chester in 2016, up to 3,700 thefts could be attributed to offenders who use heroin, cocaine or crack cocaine
- Locally, there were 38 deaths from drug misuse in 2013-2015
The complexity and pervasiveness of drug misuse and the harms it causes means that no one organisation can tackle it alone. We need to work closely with local communities to effectively deal with the issues that impact on local people on a day-to-day basis. In addition, we recognise the role of those in recovery, they are experts by experience and can help shape interventions and services. It is vital that we do this together, using a co-ordinated, partnership-based approach which recognises the common goals we all share in order to build a fairer and healthier society to reduce crime, improve life chances and protect the most vulnerable.