DDN December 2021 December 2021 | Page 23


Picking up the pieces

With the sector – and the country – still reeling from the impact of the pandemic , 2021 was another challenging year for the drugs field
JANUARY Despite millions still living under tier 4 restrictions – lockdown by any other name – the year starts on a more positive note than the sector has been used to , with announcements of cash injections of £ 250m for Scotland and £ 80m for England . Many quickly point out , however , that the latter figure represents just half of the estimated reduction in funding over the last eight years .
FEBRUARY A report from Release finds that people had little difficulty sourcing drugs or suppliers during lockdowns , with more than one in ten purchases now made on the dark web – many for the first time .
MARCH ‘ Bold policies ’ like consumption rooms and decriminalisation are needed to tackle Scotland ’ s ever-worsening drug death crisis , says Edinburgh ’ s Royal College of Physicians , while the Royal College of Psychiatrists calls for urgent funding for young people ’ s services to avoid condemning them to ‘ a lifetime of dependence ’.
APRIL A landmark , country-wide naloxone awareness campaign launches , using images of people personally affected by overdose , while Europe ’ s drug trade is now more violent than ever , says Europol – a ‘ booming ’ cocaine market is increasing the number of ‘ killings , shootings , bombings , arsons , kidnappings , torture and intimidation ’.
MAY Alcohol-specific deaths in England and Wales hit their highest level for 20 years , up 20 per cent from the previous year , in a month that also sees the 50th anniversary of the Misuse of Drugs Act – legislation that has been a ‘ disaster ’, says Transform chief executive James Nicholls .
JUNE Three quarters of adults are in favour of tighter restrictions on gambling advertising , a YouGov survey reveals , while a University of Nottingham report finds county lines activity is being characterised by ever-rising levels of extreme violence and sexual exploitation .
JULY The second part of Dame Carol Black ’ s Independent review of drugs finally sees the light of day , calling for ‘ whole system change ’ underpinned by investment of more than £ 550m over five years . While that may seem a lot , it ‘ only
takes us back to the levels of 2012 ’, she points out . As if to back up her argument on the importance of investment , Scotland again records its highest ever drug death toll .
AUGUST To nobody ’ s great surprise , drug deaths in England and Wales also reach their highest level , while Scotland ’ s alcohol-specific deaths mirror those south of the border by rising almost 20 per cent in a year . Though the country has led the way with MUP there ’ s still more to do , says Professor Sir Ian Gilmore , including ‘ ensuring access to alcohol treatment for all who need it ’.
SEPTEMBER Scotland ’ s lord advocate rules that police can now issue warnings for possession of class A substances in a bid to help tackle the drug death ‘ public health emergency ’. While the Scottish Conservatives brand it ‘ decriminalisation by stealth ’ the Daily Record welcomes a ‘ massive step forward in drugs policy ’.
OCTOBER Rishi Sunak uses his budget to introduce the ‘ most radical simplification of alcohol duties for over 140 years ’, with plans to tax drinks according to their strength – although campaigners are dismayed by his decision to freeze duty rates for another year in the meantime .
NOVEMBER The Harm Reduction Consortium ’ s Global Drug Policy Index finds the UK rating fourth when it comes to ‘ humane and health-driven ’ drug policies worldwide , although the median score across the 30 countries surveyed is just 48 out of 100 . Meanwhile , UNODC warns that the crisis in Afghanistan could see the world ’ s drug markets ‘ flooded ’ with heroin .
DECEMBER Nearly two years on from the start of the pandemic , COVID case numbers are once again rising sharply across Europe . So with hopes that at least some of the Black review ’ s recommendations might be acted on , the sector looks cautiously to 2022 . DDN
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