Skip to main content
23 December 2021

New report highlights barriers to treatment and support for women who use drugs

With You provides blueprint for a more accessible, flexible and engaging system of support for women

Ahead of the release of the Government’s drug strategy, due out by the end of the year, national drugs, alcohol and mental health charity, With You, has launched a groundbreaking report highlighting the specific challenges women face in accessing drug treatment and support.

The report follows recent data showing:

  • Record levels of drug-related deaths in Scotland, England and Wales, in 2020 reaching a record 1,453 deaths in England and Wales
  • Drug related death rates tripled in Scotland from 122 in 2010 to 366 in 2020, according to the Office for National Statistics and National Records Scotland.

A system designed for women? has been compiled following extensive research across 80 locations across England and Scotland, drawing on interviews with women who have accessed drug treatment services, frontline staff, surveys, roundtables, materials attained through Freedom of Information Act requests and expert interviews.

It argues that drug-related problems unique to women have received insufficient attention in research and that women are held back from getting support by a system that often lacks the capacity and flexibility to cater for their needs, setting out recommendations for services, commissioners and policymakers to create more women-accessible environments.

Siobhan Peters, With You’s Director of Services (North and West), said: “Having worked in drug treatment services for over a decade, I've seen first hand the difficulties and challenges women can face navigating a system that is often not designed for them.

For many women, drug services with male-dominated service user populations are daunting and intimidating places and can trigger memories of abuse and trauma. Seemingly simple things like offering flexibility with location and times of appointments can make a big difference and help mitigate the stigma women often feel, especially when they have child or family care responsibilities.

We need to continue to push ourselves, the Government, and the sector to be more ambitious. Investment is vital but it is not the only way to address this issue. There are lots of practical steps that require little funding which have the potential to make services more welcoming to women.”

Tina, With You Volunteer and Lived Experience Expert, said: ”It was really important for me at the beginning to be around women. Women’s groups were so helpful for my confidence and self esteem - having strong women that believed in me before I did myself and helped me grow. They did it in such a kind and caring way.

“My first nine months of being clean, I didn’t want to live - I just couldn't do it. That's where my key worker stayed with me even when I relapsed. Me feeling safe and building trust up with other women. That was what helped me turn it around eventually.”

Specifically, the report calls on:

  • National policy makers to include objectives and guidance for increasing the number of women in drug treatment in the upcoming Drugs and Addiction Strategies, improved research and data collection, and increased funding.
  • Local authorities to commission women-only services where needed, including for Black, Asian and ethnic minority communities, promote gender and trauma training, and ensure that services are able to provide a range of bespoke interventions to engage the different needs of women who use drugs.
  • Service providers to involve women with lived experience in service design, delivery and evaluation so services are designed for women's needs, ensure staff receive the appropriate training, and ensure service branding is visually engaging for women and that their physical spaces are flexible, appropriate and welcoming.

The full report and recommendations are available here.