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Published by

David Best

18 August 2021, 4:10 UTC Share

Increasing the focus on peer recovery and empowerment in drug policy

People recover from even the most horrendous addictions. And we now understand the process of how they do it. CHIME – (positive) Connections generate Hope that creates a virtuous circle of a new and valued Identity that leads to engagement in Meaningful activities and a sense of Empowerment. Since 2010, this has been recognised in policy but translating that recognition to action has been much more challenging.

In 2010, the then Home Secretary, Theresa May launched a new UK drug strategy with the bold claim that: “a fundamental difference between this strategy and those that have gone before is that instead of focusing primarily on reducing the harms caused by drug misuse, our approach will be to go much further and offer every support for people to choose recovery as an achievable way out of dependency”.

Those claims were never realised and indeed most of the aspirations and visions for a recovery-oriented approach were never realised. Indeed, eleven years later, the newly launched and Government sponsored review led by Dame Carol Black asserts in the foreword that: “the public provision we currently have for prevention, treatment and recovery is not fit for purpose, and urgently needs repair”.

So what went wrong between the bold words of 2010 and the damning conclusion of 2021? First, making such a bold proclamation at a time of austerity and funding cuts was unrealistic. Second, a shift to localism meant a central abnegation of responsibility for implementation. And third, curiously, the 2010 strategy had no milestones, no evaluation and no process for testing its impact.

Dame Carol’s report goes on to state that: “My aim is to bring hope and real change to the many individuals, families and communities whose lives are blighted by drug addiction and by the criminals who exploit it” , based on a recommendation for significant increases in funding. So are there grounds for optimism this time around? There are four key areas of recommendation that give grounds for optimism:

  • Reform of central Government leadership
  • Increased funding for drug treatment and wider recovery support
  • Focus on recovery services
  • An increased commitment to research (including around recovery and lived experience)

What the burgeoning recovery evidence base has shown us, and what the Black Review finally seems to acknowledge is that commitment to recovery has to place Lived Experience Recovery Organisations (LEROs) at the centre, based in the communities they work with and nurture. Our research work, funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), has demonstrated the stability of recovery (even following the pandemic and lockdown), in building a UK and European evidence base. This programme of research has also demonstrated gender differences in recovery pathways.

Our study, presented to policy makers, clearly showed that engagement with peer-based recovery organisations enhances any formal treatment and that those who have recovery pathways involving peers have better social engagement and less criminal involvement.

Our European outcome studies have not only demonstrated the effectiveness of community recovery organisations, they have also afforded us the space to coordinate efforts to evidence recovery and to champion and measure recovery innovation, through the creation of the College of Lived Experience Recovery Organisations (CLERO). Indeed, the Black Review tasks the College of Lived Experience Recovery Organisations (CLERO) to produce quality standards for recovery in the current policy review, giving hope that lessons have been learned, and demonstrating the importance of research to policy, but also the potential role of research in catalysing and empowering the role of lived experience in research.

Professor David Best is an expert in Criminology based at the University of Derby. He undertakes research around addiction recovery and desistance from crime and actively engages with policymakers in these areas. He is currently completing a University of Derby SURE (Sustaining University Research Expertise) impact accelerator account project in relation to addiction recovery, which has beneficiaries in the UK, US, Canada and New Zealand.

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