This strategy is underpinned by a clear recognition that illegal drugs damage society. Our collective ambition is to achieve a generational shift in the country’s relationship with drugs and to reduce overall drug use towards a historic 30-year low. We will also reduce the harms that drug addiction and supply cause to individuals and neighbourhoods.
Over 300,000 people are addicted to heroin and crack cocaine in England. This is the biggest section of the illegal drugs market with an estimated value of £5.1 billion a year. The addiction, harms and deaths that these drugs cause, and the violence associated with their supply, result in the vast majority of the cost to individuals, neighbourhoods and society.¹⁰ Addiction to these drugs is thought to be linked to around half of all theft, burglary and robbery with, on average, people with an addiction using drugs on 251 days of the year at a cost of £12,538.¹¹
For these reasons, we will focus in the immediate term on efforts to combat the supply of heroin and crack cocaine, and on getting those suffering from addiction the treatment and support they need. At the same time, we will retain a sharp focus on pursuing the illegal supply of all drugs and on delivering high-quality treatment for addiction to other drugs. The addiction they cause can and does ruin lives. Over half of the additional people receiving drug treatment over the next three years will be supported into long-term recovery from a range of substances including cannabis, powder cocaine, alcohol and synthetic drugs, including GHB and similar substances often involved in ‘chemsex’.
We will also do more to reduce non-dependent, so-called recreational drug use. For example, users of cocaine, who on average take drugs 30 days of a year, may think their use is harmless, but it feeds a criminal market worth around £2 billion that is reliant on an exploitative and violent supply chain, both at home and abroad.¹² Legal consequences for this use have not been sufficiently applied across all levels of society, with the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities highlighting the disproportionate effect of possession laws, particularly for Class B drugs, on young black people.¹³ We will improve our methods for identifying recreational drug users and roll out a system of tougher penalties aimed at this.
Decriminalisation is often suggested as a simple solution to many of the problems caused by illegal drugs. This is not the case. It would leave organised criminals in control while risking an increase in drug use. What is required is the whole system approach recommended by Dame Carol Black and, in implementing all of the key recommendations of her review, that is what this strategy seeks to do: cutting off the supply of drugs, preventing and reducing drug use, and world-class treatment and recovery support for those battling addiction over the next decade.
Addressing the increase in overall drug use requires a generational and attitudinal shift so that in 10 years fewer people take drugs or feel drawn towards taking them. Investing in the education and resilience of children and young people will help us to level up the whole country, particularly for those families at higher risk of drug use or harm, so that no matter where someone is born or lives, they can excel and prosper in those places.
Our strategic priorities require different approaches and will have differing impacts across demographics and local areas. We will monitor impacts across the strategy’s whole system approach to track progress towards better outcomes and avoid any unintended consequences, such as widening inequalities. The following image summarises our three strategic priorities and our plan against each.