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RCP supports Royal Society for Public Health report on drug policy

After a meeting of Council, the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) signals formal support for the Royal Society for Public Health’s report Taking a new line on drugs and the evidence-based recommendations it puts forward.

Health harms from illegal drugs

The RCP strongly supports the view that drug addiction must be considered a health issue first and foremost. We are alarmed by recent statistics indicating that death and harm from drug misuse is an increasing problem. In 2015 there were 2,479 registered drug-related deaths in England and Wales. This is an increase on 10% from 2014 and 48% from 2005; 60% of these deaths accounted for those aged between 30 and 49.

The most recent data for England in 2015–16 shows that there were 81,904 hospital admissions with a primary or secondary diagnosis of drug-related mental and behavioural disorders, a 9% increase from the previous year. Across the same period there were 15,074 hospital admissions with a primary diagnosis of poisoning by illicit drugs, 51% more than 10 years earlier.

Drug prevention and treatment services

These figures demonstrate a clear need for physical, psychological and social support and care for people addicted to drugs. The scarcity of resources in this area is of critical concern for the RCP, and in recent years we have been calling for a reversal of the reduction in funding for local authorities’ public health grants and ringfencing for public health services which began in 2016.

As local authorities across the country have sought to balance their budgets in an unprecedented squeeze, this has resulted in cuts to a number of services including alcohol and drug addiction services. In a survey carried out in 2016 by the Association of Directors of Public Health, 40% of responding directors said drug services would be decommissioned or reduced in the coming year. We know also that the specialty of addiction psychiatry is severely under threat with the number of training posts decreasing by 60% since 2016.

The RCP seeks urgent action to prioritise and increase investment in public health services and workforce in order to meet rising population need.