Review on Drugs – will change happen for people with Multiple Complex Needs?

In August 2020, Fulfilling Lives South East (FLSE) responded to a call for evidence to support Dame Carol Black’s Part 2 report that focuses on the treatment, recovery and prevention of substance misuse. FLSE’s Service User Involvement team also contributed directly to Dame Carol’s consultation through the National Expert Citizens Group. The report, which contains 32 recommendations for change across various government departments and other organisations, was published in July 2021 and the Fulfilling Lives’ team now reflects on how far the measures go in meeting the needs of those with multiple complex needs.


Time to reflect and review

The Review is momentous on several counts and relevant to the work FLSE undertakes. When reflecting on the recommendations we made in 2020, altogether, we found 14 recommendations out of the total 32 that speak to our asks related to multi-agency working and integrated services; trained workforces providing trauma-informed support; the criminal justice system/repeat offending; housing and employment support; treatment and access needs for co-existing conditions; healthcare inequalities; assertive outreach; peer mentoring and recovery communities. The Review contains findings that are compelling and serve as a reminder that organisations working to improve systems for people with multiple complex needs are not lone voices.

For example, our research found that substance misuse problems always exist in a wider context so it can’t be addressed in isolation. Overlapping complex issues need to be considered when providing support in a trauma-informed manner because addiction is often a response to deep trauma. We were pleased to see that the Review acknowledges that mental health problems and trauma (physical, sexual and psychological) often lies at the heart of drug and alcohol dependence and views them as “co-morbidities rather than separate problems for ‘dual diagnosis’”.

An overwhelming majority of our research respondents strongly felt that peer support and mentoring had been essential to their recovery and peer mentors should be assigned to those finding it difficult to engage with services. In response, the Review recommends that services recruit or include people with lived experience of drug dependence working as recovery champions, recovery coaches and peer mentors, which speaks to our work with the DWP. It further states that they should also provide networks of peer-based recovery support and establish communities of recovery and mutual aid groups. We’re thankful that the Review also calls for increased funding to aid the expansion of local areas’ support for peer-led grass-roots recovery communities and peer mentoring in order to complement professionally led services.

Our Concerns

Whilst we welcome the Review’s recommendations on peer-based recovery support, we are disappointed in the lack of advocacy for more specific women-only recovery and refuge spaces in early recovery and intervention. Our Lived Experience Perspectives Report, which was drawn from a series of conversations with women that have experienced drug and alcohol misuse, highlights the need for women to feel safe while sharing a number of gender-specific intersecting needs and issues including (but not limited to) the experience of coercive and abusive relationships, removal of children by social services and sexual exploitation. Many women we spoke to felt that mixed settings in hostels and temporary accommodation pose a risk to women who may have experienced complex trauma and valued ongoing participation in women’s groups:

“We share and see emotions in a different way to men, so it is essential to be in a safe space where women have similar ways to understand and to communicate emotions.”

Fulfilling Lives South East submission on ‘Lived Experience Perspectives’ for the Independent Review of Drugs by Professor Dame Carol Black

Despite the acknowledgement of overlapping and complex issues, we still feel there needs to be an explicit definition of multiple and complex needs within Dame Carol Black’s part 2 report. We believe that the complexities of overlapping and multiple disadvantage should be named and adequately defined in order to provide more targeted support that is free from judgement, stigmatization or unfair treatment and exclusion.

How will these measures impact those experiencing drug/alcohol misuse and complex needs?

The recommendations – if enacted – have the potential to radically change the way someone with multiple complex needs experiences the support system while on their path to recovery. Agencies working together would reduce the likelihood of service users being left out in the cold or reaching an impasse where no service assumes responsibility. The suggestion of consideration (unfortunately not a requirement) that the NHS target those with substance dependencies, and that commissioned substance misuse services incorporate select mental health treatment, would finally allow those suffering mental ill-health and substance dependency to engage in treatment that is designed to target both at the same time, rather than neither, as is the case for many. This is the official stamp for what many in the sector have been championing for a long time.

Increasing the number of well-trained mental health professionals is a necessary complement to combined mental health and substance misuse treatment, and a trauma-educated workforce would help to build trust with those they support, the importance of which should not be understated. With many mental health professionals and psychotherapists holding the view that early relationships are a significant contributor to mental health problems and addiction, it follows that they are also an important part of someone’s recovery.

The review recognises that the criminal justice system isn’t the most appropriate place for someone with substance dependency, and rightfully suggests that treatment is the most suitable outcome. It goes on to recommend that upon release, everyone has identification and a bank account, with access to benefits services and community drug treatment as soon as possible after release from prison.  If these recommendations are enacted, those already stigmatised could avoid further stigmatisation and damage to their sense of self, the additional barriers that result from incarceration, and the effects of being institutionalised by the prison system.

Although the review didn’t go on to recommend any direct action to improve housing for those with substance dependency, it was a step in the right direction to suggest the relevant government departments work together to gain a better understanding of the needs of this cohort. Similarly, regarding health inequalities, there was no proposed solution, more of a stern word to the government to get a plan together by the end of 2021 to integrate specific health service provisions for this group into the local integrated care system.

Final reflections

The recommendations vary in their assertions and don’t always provide direct solutions. Regardless, the Dame Carol Black review has laid bare the barriers faced by people with multiple complex needs who suffer from addiction. The proposals are a clear message to the government to take responsibility for the systemic shortcomings that, at best, hinder recovery and at worst, add to the physical and psychological decline of the most vulnerable in society. The announcement of a 10-year drug strategy provides the government with the opportunity to implement the recommendations put forth in this report, ensuring that the road to stability for people experiencing addiction and associated problems would be smoother and easier to navigate than ever before.

“The government’s 10-year strategy looks great on the surface, with commitment to delivering on all recommendations laid out in Part 2 of the report being a highlight. There is some cause for concern though. It doesn’t reflect the lack of control faced by people with substance addiction, as judges will still be able to issue custodial sentences for non-compliance of community sentences. The ‘tougher consequences’ line is also baffling. Tough consequences don’t deter people from using drugs and the idea of taking away someone’s passport/driving license is bizarre. They haven’t alluded to what other ‘tough consequences’ are being considered, so that is a bit of a worry. It also would have been nice for the government to legitimise the role of peer supporters by referring to the post as a paid role’’

– Engagement and Co-Production Worker

Authors: Ian Harrison, Emily Page, Aditi Bhonagiri

Resources:

Lived Experience Perspectives Report: Fulfilling-Lives-Lived-experience-Dame-Carol-Black-Independent-Review-of-Drugs.pdf (bht.org.uk)

Dame Carol Black’s Part 2 report that focuses on the treatment, recovery and prevention on substance misuse: Review of drugs: phase two report – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

For further information about Fulfilling Lives work in this area, please contact Rebecca, Systems Change Lead: rebecca.rieley@sefulfillinglives.org.uk

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