A New Ministry for Alcohol, Drugs and Well-Being

Angelus believes that part of the problem about addressing drug problems is the way the policy is carried out. The UK drug policy has always been held by the Home Office. So an issue which many people think should be a public health matter is very often about enforcement and policing.

The Government’s response to legal highs has been to make the law work faster by issuing temporary bans. But that will not change young people’s behaviour and the level and seriousness of drug use.

The key elements of drug policy (prevention, education, treatment and enforcement) are scattered across departments. The budgets for illicit and medicinal drugs, alcohol and tobacco are all split so there is a no co-ordinated response to what are often shared social problems. Angelus believes a new Ministry dedicated to all substance misuse and promoting health would dramatically reduce the harms of drugs in the UK.

There are some things the Government already does quite well, for example the Talk to Frank public information programme. But creating a more joined up drugs policy has not been a priority for successive Governments. There have been nine drug ministers in the last ten years and four since 2010.

If we look at other countries who have had considerably more success in dealing with its drug problems such as Germany and France we find a public health approach with one shared budget for all substance misuse.

Francehas a similar population to UK but much lower rates of drug misuse and drug related death. The French have an interdepartmental body (MILDT) answerable to their Prime Minister. MILDT is set up to address all problems including illegal drugs, alcohol, tobacco, medicinal drugs. It also promotes healthy living and has programmes to counter gambling problems.

Overall it is cheaper. The estimated socio-economic costs inUKof illegal drugs is £10-12Bn per annum – inFrancetheir estimate is 2.8Bn Euros or about £2.5Bn. In France, the range of drug related deaths is between 200-500 per year. In UKit is between 1300-2600 deaths (EMCDDA figures).

France still has significant drug problems but appears to be able to act on them better than the UK. The table below also shows cannabis use at similar levels in the UK and France, but other traditional drugs have a significantly lower prevalence.

  Cannabis Cocaine Ecstasy
UK 15.9% 5.6% 4.1%
France 16.7% 1.2% 1.0%

Source: EMCDDA figures 2011. Drugs taken in the last 12 months by 16-34 year olds.

Angelus has been lobbying the UK Government to move to a different system perhaps like the French model. We believe it would show a much stronger commitment to improving lives and, in the longer-term, would be cost-saving to society. We propose the new Ministry should the Department for Alcohol, Drugs and Well-Being.