Thursday, 2 January 2014

A New Year’s message from Marcus Roberts, DrugScope’s new Chief Executive

'For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice' T S Eliot

2014 promises to be another big year - for DrugScope, our members, our partners and 'the sector'. A lot of the new bodies and systems will be celebrating their first birthdays in a few months, with an expectation that this could make them more assertive in setting their priorities and allocating their spending from April 2014. Local authorities will face some tough decisions with their budgets subject to further cuts this year. There is also a huge agenda of change for the welfare and criminal justice systems – not least, the Ministry of Justice’s Transforming  Rehabilitation initiative that will potentially have significant implications for offenders with drug and alcohol problems.

We need to redouble our efforts to provide compelling and relevant answers to the question 'Why Invest?' at local level, engaging with non-specialist commissioners and elected officials, and speaking to local concerns and priorities. Fortunately, we've got the data, connections, profile, stories and some good resources too. DrugScope is developing and collecting these resources as part of its work on behalf of the Recovery Partnership.

Nationally, we need to monitor developments and share experiences, to capture good practice and examples of adaption and resilience, while also providing early warning of any threats to drug and alcohol services that could jeopardise the ambition to 'build recovery in communities' that is the centrepiece of the national Drug Strategy. For example, DrugScope will be publishing our 'State of the Sector' report later this month.

The question 'how invest?' is related and just as important - this is partly about the quality of commissioning processes, and the development of things like payment by results, personalisation, strategic recovery champions and Whole Place Community Budgets. But it's also about building on a legacy of evidence based practice, improved clinical governance, and investment in research and training and workforce development in an age of localism and austerity. For example, DrugScope will continue to work with the Substance Misuse Skills Consortium to promote its skills framework and skills hub and through the Federation of Drug and Alcohol Professionals to support professional and practice standards.

DrugScope enters 2014 as a member of the Recovery Partnership with the Skills Consortium and Recovery Group UK. No doubt the idea of 'recovery' will continue to be discussed and contested in 2014. A bit of controversy is no bad thing, it helps to keep ideas alive and prevents them from ossifying into dogma and bureaucratic formulation and application. For DrugScope, the idea of recovery as regaining something lost or taken away has always been the critical one, both in terms of the empowerment of individuals and the fight for social integration and justice - for example, through our work on multiple need and disadvantage as part of the Making Every Adult Matter Coalition or the priority we continue to give to the impacts of welfare reform.

Entering 2014, the task of 'building recovery' can be shaped and informed by a growing body of evidence and experience, including the Strang Report on the role of medications in recovery and the landmark report on recovery published by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs in December. This is the approach that will guide and inform our work going forward.

The public health agenda provides an historic opportunity to widen and diversify the 'sector's' role in local communities, our influence and reach. Drug and alcohol issues pervade our culture and society - that's why substance misuse services have something to contribute to such a broad range of public health priorities. This is an opportunity to broaden our horizons - for example, in responding to concerns about new psychoactive substances, developing services and interventions for young people and young adults, working with equality and diversity groups (such as the LGBT community, older people and migrants), supporting families and contributing to interventions around domestic violence and child safeguarding and responding to new demands for harm reduction, prevention and early intervention. For example, we will be publishing a briefing on drugs and older people later this month.

There is no doubt about the challenges ahead: the risk of disinvestment is real, and there is a risk that in more challenging times the sector could find itself revisiting some of the polarised debates that were holding it back some years ago.

But I enter 2014 feeling energised and optimistic. Drug and alcohol policy is firmly on the radar at national level. There have been strong hints that a new Health Premium will provide a financial incentive for local authorities to continue to invest in drug and alcohol services. Localism combined with the new public health agenda creates an opportunity to 're-vision' what we are about as a sector and as a broad movement for social change.

In particular, while stigma is a key issue for us, I am heartened that a DrugScope/ICM public opinion poll conducted in 2009 found that nine out of ten people believed drug treatment should be available to anyone with a drug problem who was prepared to address it. Tellingly, one in five said they had direct or indirect experience of 'drug addiction', if we widened that out to include alcohol and other sorts of drug problems then the number would be very much higher. This suggests there is an opportunity to begin a different kind of dialogue with the public than we have had in the past at a time when localism is demanding that we are much more outward facing in our engagement with local communities. DrugScope's media and communications work will continue to reach out to this wider audience and help to create spaces for these discussions.

DrugScope will be doing everything we can to support you, including a strategic review of all our activities in early 2014 to ensure that we are focussing our resources in the best possible way to add value and provide voice, representation and support. Can I end with good wishes for the New Year, particularly to all of our members – and if you’re not a member why not start the year by joining us?

Find out about DrugScope membership and join here

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