Tag Archives: Drug and Alcohol Harm reduction

New funding to improve drug and alcohol treatment for those with a housing need

Councillor Ellie King, smiling, standing on Bristol City Hall ramped.
Today’s guest blog is by Councillor Ellie King, Cabinet Member for Public Health and Communities

“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. 

Pioneering harm reduction work launched

Today, Bristol starts to deliver another first in the UK – if not the world. We become the first city to take a truly coordinated approach to reducing the harm caused by drugs and alcohol in the night time economy, with a new toolkit and campaign launched to improve safety in the sector.

This latest campaign from Bristol Nights, backed Bristol City Council, Avon & Somerset Police, and a number of city partners, begins a unified, safety-first approach towards drug and alcohol use in our city.

This approach encourages venues to recognise the risks of drug and alcohol use and aims to train everyone involved in the night time economy with the information and tools to promote safe environments. In practical terms, this will likely mean supporting intoxicated people with trained staff, who can get medical assistance when needed, rather than ejecting them. As a harbour city, ensuring that our vibrant diversity of night time venues adopt and practice harm reduction will help to save lives.

Taking a One City approach to collaborating across the institutions that make up Bristol fits perfectly with other night time economy initiatives, including the award-winning Bristol Rules campaign. We’re also building on the success of other previous campaigns associated with Drink Spiking, taking a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment, and delivering a Women’s Safety Charter.

It will no doubt mean challenging conversations but this city-wide approach to harm reduction really can stand apart from the venue-led approaches of other cities like Amsterdam and Zurich.  Venues on the frontline will know that all of Bristol, including the police and licensing authority, have their back in taking steps to reduce the wider harms caused by drugs. We hope that this will offer a blueprint to the sector, and cities elsewhere which are split across different licensing authorities or continue to take a zero-tolerance approach.

Bristol Nights Drug and Alcohol harm reduction guide poster. Two women looking at posters that read: 'Look Out For Your Mates', 'Know Your Highs And The Lows' and 'Take It Easy'.

Carly Heath, our Night Time Economy Advisor, and Councillor Ellie King, Cabinet Member for Public Health, are focused on working with partners to develop a human-centred approach and provide judgement-free solutions to reduce risk, while continuing to encourage people to report anyone involved in the supply of illegal drugs to local police. This approach will be supported by the first regular drug checking service of its kind, provided by The Loop.

This latest campaign is part of a series of actions being taken to improve safety in the night time economy and further delivers the Drug and Alcohol Strategy adopted in 2021.

In the past couple of weeks we have also committed over £1.2 million of grant funding over two years to provide housing support for individuals with drug and alcohol dependencies who are facing homelessness.

Whilst today’s campaign launch will focus efforts on reducing harm in the night time economy, it joins a suite of activity that aims to evolve the approach we take to deal with the impacts that drugs and alcohol have on our city.