08 September 2016
Article by Stephen Boyce, National Assembly for Wales Research Service
The Welsh Government’s new Substance Misuse Delivery Plan Working together to reduce harm: Delivery plan 2016 – 2018 sets out the latest plans to tackle the impact of substance misuse in Wales.
The plan covers the remaining years of the Welsh Government’s Substance Misuse Strategy for Wales (2008-18) although it will be operating in the context of new legislation made in the Fourth Assembly. Accordingly, the Delivery Plan’s outcomes are mapped on to the goals set by the Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015.
In addition to tackling misuse of alcohol and illegal drugs, the Delivery Plan seeks to address problems caused by the misuse of image and performance enhancing drugs (IPEDs), new psychoactive substances (NPSs), and medicines. The Welsh Government consulted on the plan between January and April 2016.
The latest statistics from the Welsh Government’s Welsh National Database for Substance Misuse (2014-15) (1.32MB) show that there was a substantial rise (9.9%) in referrals to the database from the previous year, reversing the downward trend evident prior to 2013-14. Alcohol was the main problematic substance for the majority of referrals (54%). Heroin referrals accounted for 19.4%, cannabis referrals for 9.5%, amphetamines 4.4% and cocaine accounted for 3.6% of all referrals.
The new Delivery Plan includes initiatives to:
- Raise awareness of the potentially harmful consequences of new psychoactive substances (often referred to as ‘legal highs’).
- Raise awareness of the potentially harmful consequences of image and performance enhancing drugs and to continue participation in a UK wide surveillance programme on the prevalence, nature and risks of IPEDs’ use in Wales.
- Reduce the inappropriate use of prescription-only medicines and over-the-counter medicines.
- Ensure appropriate referrals are made quickly to substance misuse services from primary and secondary care services and other relevant professionals.
- Prevent homelessness and help people with substance misuse problems sustain tenancies.
- Ensure substance misuse which co-occurs with mental health problems is managed effectively.
- Increase the availability of recovery-oriented substance misuse services.
- Improve long-term outcomes for those affected by substance misuse through access to employment and training.
The Delivery Plan follows an independent evaluation of the first three years of the implementation of the Welsh Government’s Substance Misuse Strategy for Wales (2008-18), which noted that there was a lack of provision in the strategy for measuring outcomes.
Some common themes from the recommendations in both Committee inquiries were:
- the need for more leadership from the Welsh Government to raise awareness of the associated harms;
- the need to improve training for NHS professionals; and
- the need to improve education programmes and policies in schools on the issues.
The Health and Social Care Committee also highlighted a lack of data, particularly with regard to the extent of NPS use.
The Delivery Plan addresses these issues in the following ways:
Raising awareness of harms. Key action 1 in the plan is to Raise awareness of the harms associated with substance misuse with professionals and the general population. This includes raising awareness of the health impact of substance misuse and developing targeted prevention campaigns aimed at changing behaviour in relation to legal and illegal substances, including alcohol, new psychoactive substances and image and performance enhancing drugs and medicines. Young people (up to 24 years) and older age groups (50 years and over) will be targeted for awareness raising.
Improve training. There are actions relating to improved substance misuse training for NHS staff, including primary care and community services staff and those working in A&E and emergency services. There are also actions to provide training to social care staff and to improve awareness of substance misuse issues amongst other workers such as pharmacists, housing staff, and people working in the night time economy.
Improving education programmes and policies in schools. The Health and Social Care Committee’s NPS inquiry recommended an urgent review of the current drugs education programme in schools. The Committee believed there was a need to improve consistency across Wales and ensure the programme is delivered by people who are suitably trained and qualified.
The Delivery Plan includes Key Action 4 Ensure appropriate educational programmes are available across Wales. This includes implementing the recommendations from the review of the All Wales Schools Liaison Core Programme (AWSLCP) which is a crime prevention teaching programme focusing on drugs and substance misuse, social behaviour and community, and personal safety.