“Enormous human tragedy surrounds the lives of people dependent on drugs”, said Dame Carol Black, an academic and a senior advisor to the government on drugs and alcohol, who visited Bristol this month.
Alcohol and other drugs have a serious impact in Bristol. We have one of the biggest drug using populations in the UK, and the second largest estimated rate of opiate and/or crack users (per 1,000 population) of all the English core cities. There are an estimated 6,500 alcohol dependent drinkers in Bristol, and deaths from alcohol and other drugs are increasing. We know that a significant proportion of people who develop dependency on drugs and/or alcohol are known to have experienced trauma, often in early childhood. The impact of drugs and alcohol misuse on our communities and society is devastating and can ruin lives.
Dame Carol visited local drug and alcohol treatment services in the city including the Bristol Drugs Project, Homeless Health, and The Nelson Trust and met with our partners from police, probation, and housing services. She is also responsible for one of the most comprehensive reviews of drugs in the UK, and her recommendations led to the government’s ten-year Drug Strategy, From harm to hope (2021): A 10-year drugs plan to cut crime and save lives, which aims to tackle drugs and prevent crime.
I met with her to talk about the work we are doing here in Bristol, which is informed by our Drug and Alcohol Strategy for Bristol, and explained how we are working with local partners and organisations on our long-term ambition to put the three key drivers of treatment, recovery, and prevention at the heart of our approach in the city. Our strategy outlines how we aim to inform individuals and their families, regardless of starting points, and empower them to reach their full potential, access treatment if needed, and reduce harm within their community.
The work to tackle the harm that drugs and alcohol misuse does to our communities is ongoing. This month Cabinet approved new government funding to improve drug and alcohol treatment outcomes for people with a housing need. This is significant grant funding of over £604,000 for the financial year 2023-24, and the same amount again for the following year. The funding is specifically for a menu of interventions related to the provision of drug and alcohol treatment and housing support for people who are at risk of homelessness.
As well as having a particularly high level of need relating to the use of drugs and alcohol, Bristol has also seen the number of people sleeping on the streets rising significantly since 2013. The average age of death of homeless men is 47 years old, and even lower for homeless women at 43. People who end up sleeping rough often experience barriers in accessing health and care services, and experience poor health outcomes in comparison to the rest of society. In 2019-20, 40% of people coming onto the streets were ‘returners’ to rough sleeping. Mental health, drugs, alcohol, physical health, and benefits/finances have been identified the five key areas that those at risk of homelessness need more support with.
Our work tackling drug and alcohol misuse aligns with our One City Plan and our Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Strategy 2019-2024. The latter outlines a range of ambitions, including focusing maximum efforts and resources to eradicate rough sleeping it by 2027. This new funding enables us to start reducing the harm from alcohol and substance misuse specifically for those with a housing need, by reducing hospital admissions and substance misuse related deaths. In turn, this works towards making our communities safer by ensuring early identification and access to support and treatment for those misusing substances who are experiencing, or are at risk, of homelessness.
The funding will also be used to help reduce health inequalities by promoting good physical and mental health, ensuring health care access is available for marginalised groups and deprived communities. The picture for drug and alcohol misuse in Bristol is complex and the path to recovery for both individuals and the city can be a long one, but with the right plans in place to support people and communities, it is one we can walk together.