HC Deb 19 January 2004 vol 416 cc1055-7
1. Dr. Brian Iddon(Lab) (Bolton, South-East)

What plans he has to increase the number of offenders with drug problems who enter treatment. [148323]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Caroline Flint)

Research shows that treatment for problematic drug users works. The number in treatment has increased by 41 per cent. since 1998–99 and waiting times have reduced, but they need to reduce further. We are investing more than £400 million through the criminal justice interventions programme to make sure that offenders with drug problems have and take every opportunity to benefit from that treatment. We are on course to meet our target of 200,000 problematic drug users in treatment by 2008.

Dr. Iddon

What hope can my hon. Friend give my constituent, whom I shall call A? He served a short prison sentence and came out on 31 December. He is 32 and has been taking heroin for 16 years. He has already lost his brother to heroin and has a supportive family. This weekend, he was desperate to give up heroin and unsuccessfully tried cold turkey. We tried to get him emergency treatment but the doctor would prescribe only dihydrocodeine, the hospital did not want him and there is a three-month waiting list for the community drugs team. What hope can my hon. Friend give such people? Surely we need emergency treatment when people want to give up heroin.

Caroline Flint

I agree with my hon. Friend. We need quick and effective treatment for people in that position. We are considering how we can improve matters, especially for those who serve short-term prison sentences. We have had several pilots for those serving short-term sentences and on remand, which is also crucial. The results will be available shortly and we shall consider how we can extend the pilots.

My hon. Friend is right: we need to examine several issues. The other week, I had a meeting with representatives from the Department of Health and people in my Department about prescribing. We must do a job of education so that general practitioners are aware of the alternatives that should and must be available for people with specific drug use problems, especially with heroin.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd(PC) (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

Given that more than 60 per cent. of all property crime is drug-related, would it not be cost-effective to invest even more in immediate treatment, to follow up the question of the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon)? May I stress to the Under-Secretary the need for early discussions with her colleagues in the National Assembly for Wales, because there are fewer than 15 treatment beds for drug addicts in the whole of Wales?

Caroline Flint

We are spending an additional £500 million, but we need to ensure that the money is well used. I hope to go to Wales and Scotland in the near future to speak to my colleagues about what they are doing. The hon. Gentleman rightly drew attention to identifying drug use as a reason for committing crimes. The extension of our criminal justice interventions programme£arresting people on charge, and considering how we can further spread the net to cover early identification in the custody suite and follow that through into the courts, prison or community sentences£is one way of ensuring that health treatment runs alongside criminal justice interventions.

Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South) (Lab)

Does my hon. Friend agree that voluntary sector organisations have a big role to play in combating the drug problem as well as other social problems? Does she also agree that if a council such as mine in Leicester is determined to make cuts in the voluntary sector, it is likely to make the specific problem and other social problems worse?

Caroline Flint

I agree with my hon. Friend's first point that the voluntary sector provides a great deal of innovation and expertise. For a long time, especially under previous Governments, it managed without the help that the Government are providing today. Voluntary organisations can innovate, they have good practice and I encourage the expansion of their services.

If my hon. Friend would like to see me about his specific point, I shall look into it. It is a question of partnership between the drug action teams, law enforcement, the national health service and GPs, and the voluntary sector. If the action proves effective and provides results, people should consider carefully before cutting such a service.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con)

The Department's statistics show that 149,000 drug users used some form of treatment centre last year, but British crime survey figures show that there were approximately 1 million hard drug users in the country That means that only 15 per cent. went into treatment. for 60 per cent. of whom the outcome was failure. Only 5 per cent. of the addict population were therefore successfully treated. What more can we do to improve that figure?

Caroline Flint

My information is that there are 250,000 problematic—class A—drug users, who cause the most crime. The hon. Gentleman's comments are interesting. We are increasing access to treatment and, as I said earlier, we are on target to reach 200,000 people in treatment. It costs money, which we are putting in. Would his party match our investment in, and dedication to, tackling the problem? I believe that the answer is no.

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