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The BBC's Christine Stewart
"The government wants to reduce drugs related crime"
 real 28k

Home Secretary Jack Straw
" We can deal with the causes"
 real 28k

Thursday, 8 June, 2000, 10:22 GMT 11:22 UK
Straw unveils new drugs agency
Illegal drugs and a sringe
"Drugs destroy lives": Jack Straw
A new national agency to oversee drugs treatment programmes is to be created, Home Secretary Jack Straw has announced.

The new National Treatment Agency will be charged with drawing lessons from the most successful schemes to promote best practice in every area of England and set minimum standards.

It will also take on responsibility for directly commissioning treatment for the hard core of 2,000 addicts who need residential care.

Jack Straw
The Home Secretary wants treatment speeded up
Mr Straw says cracking the UK's drug problem is central to cutting crime.

About 50,000 Britons begin some form of treatment each year but he said results from the thousands of different schemes running across the UK are too patchy.

Mr Straw has admitted government resources are not being used as well as they could, because funding for treatment is administered by two different government departments.

"A lot of that money is dissipated - not properly spent, and we're having a central national treatment agency which would pool the money which currently is spent by two government departments, the Home Office and the Department of Health," he told BBC Radio.

The agency will pool the 150m spent by the NHS and local authorities on programmes with the millions more invested by the Home Office in the testing and treatment of criminals.

"Every crime is a breach of trust, a rupture in the fabric of rights and responsibilities that bind our society together," Mr Straw told the Social Market Foundation think-tank at a speech at London's Church House.

"But no strategy to tackle crime can be effective without a co-ordinated and robust attack on drugs."

High-profile cases

The home secretary pinpointed recent high-profile cases, including that of former EastEnders star Danniella Westbrook, as examples of the way drugs have reached in to every community.

He said: "This is an industry that respects neither wealth nor privilege. On the one hand we read of a young television star with everything to live for with her looks now eaten away by years of cocaine abuse," he said.

Actress  Danniella Westbrook
Danniella Westbrook - high profile case
"On the other hand, 14 addicts already dead in the past three weeks on some of Glasgow's poorest estates from a rogue batch of heroin.

"Two significantly different stories, but with one very clear message - that drugs destroy lives."

But he claimed that government policy is bringing results, citing the 100m three-year project to tackle drug abuse in prisons which has seen inmates testing positive fall from 24% in 1996-7 to 14% so far this year.


No strategy to tackle crime can be effective without a co-ordinated and robust attack on drugs

Jack Straw, Home Secretary
Government drugs czar Keith Hellawell has estimated the proceeds of up to a third of property crime are spent on heroin and crack cocaine alone.

The home secretary is also concerned about the length of time it takes to provide treatment as well as the programme's success rate.

In some areas, help can be provided in a matter of days or weeks, while in others it can take months or years, he told his audience.

Drugs initiatives

"Every day they are kept waiting is another day they are out on drugs and potentially committing crime," Mr Straw said.

The agency - which will not cover Scotland, which has its own drugs strategy - will bolster the government's 10-year strategy to reduce abuse.

Persistent dealers already face a minimum seven-year sentence and schemes referring abusers to treatment programmes have been introduced at every police custody suite.

Criminals who abuse drugs will face treatment and testing orders from October.

The home secretary's ideas have been welcomed by drugs treatment charity Turning Point.

Chief executive Ted Unsworth said: "These proposed changes should help bring a greater consistency to treatment.

"The setting of minimum standards should also help ensure good quality drug services are a standard, not an exception, and help reduce waiting lists which can often be measured in months.

"Our only reservation is whether the larger combined budget will be subject to cuts which would set back the fight against drugs."

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See also:

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Jails to get 'drug-busters'
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Drugs: A global business
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Factfile on drugs
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