Approved Premises need more effective focus on drug testing and managing the risks of substance abuse, says Ombudsman

Approved Premise (APs), home to people released from prison or on bail or court orders, need more effective drug testing practices and better staff guidance to identify and address the risks associated with substance misuse, and support individuals, according to a report published today by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO).

PPO, learning lessons, Approved Premises, substance misuse

Download PPO’s latest learning lessons bulletin: “Approved Premises – substance misuse”.

Download the full news release.

Overdoses of opiate and other drugs, including alcohol, by people released from prison remain a significant risk, the PPO ‘Learning Lessons’ bulletin found. People are at a higher risk of overdose if they slip back into drug and alcohol use after periods of abstinence or detoxification.

“Approved Premises – substance misuse”  – based on findings from deaths in APs investigated by the PPO – also raised significant concerns about New Psychoactive Substances (NPS). These range from stimulants to hallucinogens and are commonly seen in prisons and the community as synthetic cannabinoids, known by names such as Spice and Mamba.

Elizabeth Moody, the acting Ombudsman, said: “The rise of New Psychoactive Substance use in the prison estate is well documented and is widely recognised, in the words of the previous Ombudsman, as a “game-changer”. However, it is clear from our investigations that the implications of NPS for the AP estate have not yet been fully understood or addressed by the National Probation Service (which is responsible for APs).”

Three key themes

  1. The bulletin identifies a particular issue about the implementation and effectiveness of testing regimes in APs.
  2. Our investigations identified deficiencies in information sharing and welfare checks.
  3. The implications of NPS for the AP estate have not yet been fully understood or addressed by the National Probation Service.

The bulletin made a number of recommendations:

  • Tests should be undertaken for all suspected drugs, but particularly opiates if the resident is a previous user. Substance misuse needs to be managed holistically, and testing practices should reflect the resident’s full risk of misusing all types of substances.
  • Tests should be undertaken on induction for residents who are at high risk of substance misuse and whenever substance misuse is suspected.
  • If AP staff suspect someone is under the influence of NPS they should seek medical advice and respond to the symptoms presented.
  • Staff should undertake routine and targeted room searches.
  • Staff should advise residents of the dangers of using NPS.
  • The National Probation Service should review its drug testing policy within APs and should consider introducing testing for NPS.
  • The National Probation Service should revise the AP manual to provide up-to-date guidance on the management of NPS use.
  • Staff who work with an AP resident should ensure risk management information is shared with appropriate agencies. This includes, but is not limited to, the resident’s risk to themselves and of substance misuse.
  • The National Probation Service should revise the AP manual to emphasise the importance of information sharing about a resident’s substance misuse.
  • Staff undertaking checks of residents should satisfy themselves the resident is safe and well.
  • During a check, staff must have sight of the resident.
  • The National Probation Service should review the guidance on welfare checks to ensure it is clear why the checks are needed and what they should entail, particularly in relation to substance misuse.

Elizabeth Moody said:

“We know offenders can be at heightened risk of death following their release into the community. I hope this bulletin will help AP staff apply the learning from our investigations to improve the ways they identify, monitor and address the risk factors associated with substance misuse.”