It has been a little while since I managed to produce a blog. Workwise things have been especially hectic as we end the year. Not least in helping get another London Christmas alcohol campaign organised. You can see the resource produced here. Early next year I will share our experience of this year’s campaign.
Looking back 2019 has been a year when the headlines relating to drugs have been consistently negative. Record drug related deaths, some worrying prevalence data, growing concerns around crime and financial pressure on service delivery. On the positive side there is some sense that drug issues are getting back on to the agenda. Hopefully this will continue. A personal highlight of 2019 was getting to hear and speak with so many fascinating people at City Health Melbourne.
However, since returning I have had to endure, what to me, as a long-standing hoarder of drug and alcohol policy material, has been nothing less than a disaster. Outside of a few academic institutions I reckon to have collected the largest archive of UK (and some US and European) policy documents. Alongside these were examples of various campaigns covering a wide range of drug related topics. I estimate there were some 500 different reports and publications dating back to the mid 1980’s. It has often proved useful in terms of providing some inspiration, or “recycling” of ideas. It also provided a clear path of policy change and evolution. On my return from Melbourne I was told there had been some minor water leakage in our basement store. I was dismayed to see that some documents had indeed been ruined, but relatively few and the problem was seemingly resolved. Alas attempts to repair the problem led to a major leak which saw my pride and joy reduced to little more than papier mâché. Mouldy papier mâché at that.
With my dreams of opening a drug policy museum now in tatters I worked to see what could be salvaged. While doing so it made me consider how important it is to maintain and share information, evidence and experience. From my own experience I know that while digital offers great opportunities it is also very vulnerable in terms of systems or programmes becoming redundant, or of vast swathes being deliberately deleted as happened in the UK in 2010.
Anyway, amongst what was quickly turning into a mouldy morass I did find a few salvageable items and some which were worth reading but very badly damaged. The first AIDS and Drug Misuse reports produced by the UK Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs survived, slightly damaged but not ruined. These provided the foundations of drugs policy which developed over the coming decades. From 1994 I have a heavily water stained copy of Across the Divide. This set the basis for how local partnerships could work together to tackle drug problems. I then discovered a series of newsletters I had almost forgotten existed, Drugs Forum Focus. This was the newsletter of the National Local Authority Forum on Drug Misuse, with its first edition being produced in Autumn 1990 with a rallying cry that local authorities needed to get involved in providing drug services. This first edition reveals that the Forum itself had been inspired following a European conference in the Hague. The benefits of international co-operation in this field are nothing new.
Edition 5 has the headline of Doomsday for Drug and Alcohol Services? Not the last time that theme has run, but possibly the first. The driving force being the apparent impending end of the Specific Grant ring fence, the threat was particularly severe toward residential rehabilitation services. The next edition trumpeted a call for Better Drug Education, this seems especially topical as we head towards the introduction of a greater statutory element within the school curriculum from this coming September (we will be hosting a conference on this subject in June 2020). In fact, many of the newsletter headlines would reappear over the years: Review of Drugs Treatment Services; New Strategies Target Crime and Youth; Politicians Shut the Door on Drugs Law Debate and, sadly, Rise in Drug Dependence and Deaths. Reading the articles, including one by Alison Chesney, reminds me of how far things have improved but also of how often lessons learnt are forgotten and how persistent certain moral and narrow professional attitudes can be. What does stand out is the vibrancy and commitment of all those concerned in helping grow what was a very new field. People were trying out new approaches, often setting up services with little in the way of high-level support and little to guide them. What they did have was a drive to help reduce the harm to individuals and communities in the face of growing drug harms. It would be fair to say that the drugs field is a much more mature area now. We have available good clinical advice and guidance on a range of topics. However, I think many of us will admit to missing the energy and enthusiasm which helped deliver massive public health and community gains.
City Health conferences have again and again demonstrated that there are still individuals and services who display tremendous commitment and drive in helping our most vulnerable. The Paolo Pertica award, now part of the City Health conference, is one way that some of these achievements are acknowledged and promoted. The Alison Chesney and Eddie Killoran lecture, another highlight of City Health conferences, provides an opportunity for a high-profile speaker to reflect on the issues and context in which we seek to help tackle some of the key problems faced by our cities. I have spent some time going through these (they can be found here – as can presentations from all the conferences). Collectively it is a great resource, go and take a look (it doesn’t involve handling wet, mouldy papers), and peering ahead into 2020 consider whether you might wish to contribute to City Health in Warsaw. We all have much to gain from sharing our knowledge and experience. And if anyone has any old UK drug policy documents, they want to get rid of, well you know where to send them.
Let me finish by saying I hope you enjoy the Christmas break and hope 2020 provides great opportunities for collaboration and success in reducing harm.