Sixty Second Interview with Martin Barnes
By Amy Taylor
The MP for Weston Supermare, John Penrose, has alleged that referral agencies are sending drug misusers to out-of-area treatment centres in his constituency without informing the local social services. Are you aware of this problem in other areas and does this practice concern you?
This is a concern and highlights the vital importance of co-ordination and information sharing between agencies. Drug misusers often have multiple needs and may be referred into treatment through a number of different avenues. It is important that they do not get ‘lost’ in the system. Treatment is more likely to be successful when there is a clear care plan and other needs such as housing, employment and building social networks are supported. It is vital that services and agencies work closely in partnership.
A recent investigation by Avon and Somerset Police found that offenders referred to Weston-Super-Mare from other areas of the country for treatment as a part of drug treatment orders, without the knowledge of the local social services and probation, were being placed in inappropriate accommodation. Are you aware of this happening anywhere else, what is your view of the practice and how should it be addressed?
Another example where basic co-ordination and information sharing between agencies is needed but seems to be lacking. Housing is a major issue for many current and former drug users, particularly those leaving rehab, prison or moving to a new area. Appropriate, affordable, stable accommodation is crucial to ensuring that people gain the most possible from treatment and relapse is minimised. Decent and affordable housing is of course a basic need for all.
It has also been alleged that organisations send people to out of area drugs placements because they are cheaper. Do you think saving money justifies this practice?
There may be good reasons why a drug user wishes to access treatment out of their local area. Some wish to make a ‘new start’, away from the environment in which they were using drugs, and the trigger factors which could contribute to relapse. Others may prefer to remain near to family, friends and support networks. The determining factor should be achieving the best treatment outcome for the individual, not cost. Pressures to go for the cheapest option may be counter-productive, and more costly to the individual and society in the long-term. There is a need for more choice and better access to residential rehabilitation services.
The government has just announced £3.2 million of funding for projects that catch alcohol problems at an early stage. Is this enough or more of a move in the right direction?
The additional investment is of course welcome, but spending on tackling alcohol misuse is small compared to the £219 million increase in drug treatment announced last year. There is a much stronger link between drug misuse and acquisitive crime, which has given the political momentum for spending, but treatment should also be seen as a public health response. Alcohol misuse is a major and growing public health issue. It is not enough, but a step in the right direction.
The National Treatment Agency currently does not hold a remit for alcohol services. Do you think it should?
Our members are telling us that alcohol misuse is a major and growing issue for drug services and their clients. It is not true that the NTA has no remit for alcohol, but it has a challenging agenda in increasing the numbers in drug treatment, improving quality and outcomes. Referrals for alcohol misuse are increasing, but some people are being turned away unless there is also a ‘secondary’ drug problem. It is unlikely that we will see a significant shift in the NTA’s remit or significant additional spending on alcohol before 2008, when the current national drug strategy comes to an end. Many of the factors that lead to alcoholism and drug dependency are shared. It makes sense to draw the two issues closer together, and we would welcome a lead from the government on this issue.