Drink and Drugs News DDN July_August 2019 - Page 14
Roger Howard pens an open
letter to the new recovery
champion Ed Day, in
response to our interview
with him last month
ll of those working in the treatment
and indeed the wider peer-support
field must have read your DDN
interview last month (June, page 8)
and silently wished you ‘good luck’. I
remember when the idea of a
national recovery champion was first mooted thinking,
‘what’s the added value the role will bring?’
Then I saw the role detailed in September 2017
and it said, ‘The champion will be responsible for
driving and supporting collaboration between local
authorities, public employment services, housing
providers and criminal justice partners… provide
national leadership, advising government on where
improvements can be made to the existing system of
drug treatment... encourage greater partnership
working at a national level, as well as facilitating multi-
agency collaboration locally…’ And I thought, phew,
that’s some ‘ask’ for a volunteer!
Don’t get me wrong. We’ve had drug czars, drug
action teams, ACMD, National Treatment Agency and
assorted others including think tanks seeking to
address the systemic challenges of improving policy,
practice and collaboration. However, let’s not ignore
some of the lessons from these. The drug czar got the
heave-ho when he fell out with ministers over
cannabis rescheduling and how to tackle drug policy.
Professor David Nutt was dismissed as chair of ACMD
over his comments about the relative risks of ecstasy.
Paul Hayes ‘took a bullet’ for the rest of the NTA team
to smooth its transition into the new PHE.
Speaking ‘truth to power’ is like walking a tight-
rope. Another lesson is that initial patronage by an
enthusiastic and supportive minister can rapidly
change once events and personnel change – or if they
don’t like your advice. So, for all of us willing you to
succeed, what can we realistically expect?
MY ADVICE WOULD BE THREEFOLD:
First, ditch any idea that you can make any significant
impact on local collaboration. There’s some great
collaborative work going on locally, but financial
14 | drinkanddrugsnews | July/August 2019
resources are the lubricant to keep the wheels oiled.
We know the dire financial situation for local councils,
mental health services, police commissioners, criminal
justice and social housing. So, unless you want to be
sent to The Tower for heresy, no doubt you will be
advised by the civil servants to tread carefully when
giving advice to the Ministerial Drug Strategy Board
about the very real impact of cuts and changes like
universal credit on recovery prospects.
Second, yes you can (and must) champion
evidence-based practice, including peer-led services.
You have ACMD and PHE efforts to back you up. When
John Strang, Eric Appleby (Alcohol Concern) and myself
(DrugScope) helped Mike Ashton to set up Drug and
Alcohol Findings some years ago (still going strong) it
was with the explicit aim of underpinning treatment,
criminal justice and prevention practice through a
one-stop easy access portal to the evidence base. But
let’s be realistic. It’s a mammoth and ongoing task,
akin to painting the Forth Bridge.
Which takes me to my third piece of advice and
one you have already identified as a critical challenge.
The barriers to the process of sustainable recovery
are considerable. So perhaps side-stepping the obvious
ones of collaboration and good practice and
addressing the largely unchallenged issue of stigma is
a pragmatic way forward. However, you will need to
tread carefully with some ministers and practitioners.
When I discussed ‘stigma’ with them, and ways to
tackle it, I recall one minister saying that ‘stigma was a
good thing’ as it sent a message.
The research and policy development the UK Drug
Policy Commission undertook on the challenge of
tack ling stigma remains highly relevant (see:
www.ukdpc.org.uk). The mountain to climb, among
professionals, media and those using social media is
considerable. UKDPC worked with the Society of
Editors to facilitate their 2012 joint-publication,
Dealing with the stigma of drugs: a guide for
journalists. I’m sure this could be built on to take
account of new media platforms.
You could do worse that cast your eye over the anti-
stigma initiatives championed in the mental health
field. The Time to Change campaign and subsequent
off-shoots have gradually help shift public perceptions
about mental ill-health. Enlisting high profile public
figures’ support has been invaluable. It has also
engaged thousands of local people and organisations,
‘I saw the role detailed
in September 2017...
And I thought, phew,
that’s some “ask” for
building on social-contact theory and evidence to chip
away at damaging perceptions and portrayals,
including in the helping and caring professions. But I
have to say this has been achieved over two decades
and with substantial financial backing running in to
tens of millions of pounds from the DoH and bodies
like the former Big Lottery Fund.
A real achievement for the national (drug) recovery
champion would be to persuade ministers and
especially the Treasury to hand over some of the
proceeds from drug-related crime and unexplained
wealth orders to kick-start a new recovery anti-stigma
programme. That might stimulate the National
Community Lottery Fund to come on board.
Then we’d know after three years that the recovery
champion has made a real impact. Good luck Ed!
Roger Howard is chair of Build on Belief and former
CEO of the UK Drug Policy Commission, DrugScope and
Standing Conference on Drug Abuse (SCODA)