Sorted on drugs

Drugs services have been transformed in recent years. Legislation has been updated, and there are fresh health and social policies, new agencies and standards, and changes in financial support away from grants and contract-based purchasing.

The field is tough and complex given the scale of drug use, the links with other areas of concern such as blood-borne infections and crime, and the diversity of users and their needs, ranging from homeless men with mental health issues to black female sex workers.

DrugScope’s publication of a new edition of a standard work reflects these changes and challenges. The updated Enhancing Drug Services embraces the arrival of the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse (NTA), joint commissioning arrangements for funding, the Models of Care framework, the Quality in Alcohol and Drugs Services standards (Quads) and the Drugs and Alcohol National Occupation Standards (Danos).

In a densely packed 64 pages, the handbook gives a comprehensive guide to drug services, from statutory bodies to the voluntary sector, and offers advice, checklists for action, and leads to further information including details of 19 useful websites, 67 references and 155 recommendations for reading.

Editor Julie Virgin says the first edition offered a basic guide to developing quality services. Now, however, legislation on a slew of topics needs to be considered, ranging from race, disability and human rights to data protection. And providers need to be helped to “mainstream diversity” so they can address many different users and how they access services.

The new handbook retains the earlier work’s structure, discussing how providers can enhance quality, management, delivery, provision and inclusion. But extra sections now cover ethnic minorities, disability, lesbian and gay people, women, homelessness, sex workers, and people with mental health needs.

Virgin adds: “Quads offers minimum standards every provider must reach, but Enhancing Drug Services has helpful guidance and achievable good practice to keep improving year on year, with suggestions of where to find more on particular issues.”

Although it is early days to see a wide- ranging practical impact, the signs are good. At the Exeter-based EDP Drug and Alcohol Service, a leading South West service providing counselling and support, chief executive Tina Tozer is positive about what it offers: “This is a useful enhancement of what was there before. I welcome any guidance that helps to improve outcomes and standards of treatment for drug misusers, particularly as there is a plethora of services across the country.”

She adds: “I’m positive about anything that raises standards, but I would like to see efforts to enable agencies to reach those standards. Otherwise we end up with standards that smaller agencies cannot achieve. This is about good practice and it is performance-related, so to ensure this can be more effective we would need to see some appropriate support and training.”

Tozer believes that a new national audit framework to standardise commissioning of services, as well as performance management and monitoring, should address the “postcode lottery” of treatment now faced by many substance misusers.

The first edition of Enhancing Drug Services proved popular throughout its six-year life, but the pace of change could well mean another edition in a shorter timeframe, especially with the new standards and audit systems expected from the NTA.

Enhancing Drug Services is not available in an electronic form, which would have allowed continuous updating. But DrugScope can respond to questions about it, such as checking providers’ draft policies, through its Quads and policy support line: 0207 928 1211 ext. 8617.


Project: Updated edition of the Enhancing Drug Services handbook, produced by DrugScope, supported by the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse.

Inspiration: To support the staff and volunteers of adult drug service providers through the widespread legal, structural and financial changes in the substance misuse field since the first edition of the handbook six years ago.

Cost: Copies of Enhancing Drug Services have been sent free to drug treatment services, voluntary sector groups, Drug Action Teams and other organisations. Extra copies cost £10 each from DrugScope. Online ordering:

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