Staff shortages in the NHS are undermining a major Government 10-year plan to fight rising drug abuse – with use among children and young people now increasing at a faster rate than other age groups.
A massive expansion of drug treatment to help addicts kick the habit has been held back due to a lack of mental health professionals.
A Home Office report reveals: “The health and social care sectors are experiencing workforce shortages (especially for key professional roles such as doctors and psychologists), which is impacting our ability to expand high-quality treatment and recovery services at pace.”
A new recruitment drive will expand the number of psychiatry training places and encourage psychologists to choose a career in drug and alcohol treatment.
More staff are still needed, despite the drug and alcohol treatment workforce adding 1,670 staff in just one year. Expanding treatment services is a key plank of the Govern-ment’s 10-year anti-drugs drive launched last year, which involves the Department of Health and Social Care, Department for Education and Department for Work and Pensions, as well as the Home Office.
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Police shut down 1,300 “county lines” drug-dealing operations in the first year of the strategy. These regularly involve organised gangs recruiting children to sell drugs for them.
There were more than 2,000 arrests and 3,200 “safeguarding” referrals in which children or vulnerable adults were given help by bodies such as social services.
As well as taking on dealers, the strategy focuses on cutting demand for drugs, particularly among young people. The Home Office warns: “Drug use among children and young people has increased at a faster rate than other age groups.
“We continue to progress work to address this challenge head-on.”
Nearly one in five children aged 11 to 15 say they have taken drugs according to NHS research, with 12 per cent revealing they took drugs in the past year. Cannabis was the most commonly reported drug used, followed by substances such as glue or aerosol sprays and nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas.
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A £5million project to develop methods to discourage drug use among young people is underway.
It includes education programmes, as well as training pub and nightclub staff to help reduce drug use.
The Government is now analysing 5,000 responses to a consultation last year on plans to take driving licences and passports off drug users, in a bid to punish people who take drugs for recreational purposes.
In addition, legislation is planned to control the sale of “pill-press” machinery, which can turn powders into tablets. A portable device can be bought online for less than £1,000.
These are being used to make tablets containing benzodiazepines, sometimes known by users as “benzos”, which are a growing concern in Scotland. Benzodiazepines are a group of drugs, including valium, that can be prescribed for anxiety.
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