Fight against drug abuse is given pounds 217m boost

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WOMEN, TEENAGERS and ethnic minorities are to be targeted in a multi-million poundstrategy to prevent drug abuse announced yesterday.

The government initiative follows evidence that there are only enough treatment places to help one in every five problem drug takers.

Up to pounds 50m will be spent in the next three years on providing local authorities and drug agencies with more treatment packages and funding to wean addicts off their habits.

The Department of Health will contact drug action teams throughout the country this month, asking them to concentrate more on helping drug takers among young people under 25 - particularly those under 18 - women and ethnic minorities. Current treatment services tend to concentrate more on white men aged from 20 to 35. The move comes as new evidence shows that heroin dealers are targeting young men and women.

The shift in strategy was backed by research, also published yesterday, which found that every extra pounds 1 spent on treating drug misuse saved more than pounds 3 by cutting crime and the cost of prosecution and imprisonment.

The cash is part of a package of measures by the Government, which is spending an additional pounds 217m over three years on top of the pounds 1.4bn spent last year tackling drug misuse. It will be used to shift the emphasis away from reacting to drug users, for instance by imprisoning offenders, towards greater efforts at prevention, through, for example, education and rehabilitation programmes.

An extra pounds 10.5m is to be channelled into the 106 drug action teams working in England to tackle local problems. A further pounds 133m is allocated for reducing drugs misuse in prisons. This will include the new drug treatment and testing orders, which can be used instead of jail for offenders who carry out crimes to fund their habits. Pilot projects are being set up in Croydon, Liverpool and Gloucester.

An additional pounds 3m will be spent on drug education and prevention programmes in schools and the community. Speaking at the launch of the strategy, Keith Hellawell, the United Kingdom drug co-ordinator - or "drugs tsar" - said education could "reduce the temptation" of drugs for young people.

The Standing Conference on Drug Abuse, an umbrella group for bodies working in the area of drug abuse, said the new figures were actually a major shift away from prevention and education in favour of treatment, with enforcement still taking more than 60 per cent of the total.