National Anti-Drug Strategy Evaluation

Executive Summary

1. Background

The Government of Canada announced the National Anti-Drug Strategy (Strategy) on October 4, 2007, delivering on its platform commitment to "enact a national drug strategy with particular emphasis on youth". The Strategy is a horizontal initiative of 12 federal departments and agencies, led by the Department of Justice Canada (Justice Canada), with approximately $513.4 million in funding covering activities over five years from 2007/08 to 2011/12. The Strategy encompasses 20 components grouped under the Prevention Action Plan (four components), the Treatment Action Plan (six components), and the Enforcement Action Plan (ten components). Collectively, the three action plans and activities associated with the Mandatory Minimum Penalty legislation are expected to contribute to safer and healthier communities through coordinated efforts to prevent use, treat dependency, and reduce production and distribution of illicit drugs. The budget for the Enforcement Action Plan totals $205.9 million (40% of the overall budget) while the budgets for the Treatment Action Plan and the Prevention Action Plan total $190.5 million (37%) and $117 million (23%) respectively. An additional $67.7 million was set aside in a frozen allotment for the four components under Mandatory Minimum Penalties. The relevant departments are now able to access this money since the Bill received royal assent in mid-March 2012. Footnote 1

The governance structure of the Strategy consists of the Assistant Deputy Minister Steering Committee (ADMSC) and four working groups on prevention and treatment, enforcement, policy and performance, and communications.

2. Purpose of the Evaluation

The purpose of this study was to evaluate the Strategy, in accordance with the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS) requirements as set out in the 2009 TBS Directive for the Evaluation Function. The evaluation addressed the relevance and performance (effectiveness, and efficiency and economy) of the Strategy and its three action plans. The scope of the evaluation focused on the period from 2007/08 through to 2010/11.

3. Methodology

The Strategy is a complex horizontal initiative involving broad objectives, a wide range of activities, multiple departments, and a large number of components. The methodology employed to evaluate the Strategy made extensive use of performance data, evaluations, documents, files and other data compiled on the various components and action plans. This secondary data was complemented by other lines of evidence to ensure that each component of the Strategy has adequate primary and secondary information for analysis. These lines of evidence included:

  • An extensive document and file review including performance information, annual reports, and evaluation reports;
  • A review of relevant literature including governmental, national and international reports and peer-reviewed publications;
  • Interviews with three distinct groups of Strategy partners and stakeholders including 50 departmental representatives drawn from all 12 federal departments involved in the Strategy; 23 direct Strategy stakeholders including funding recipients, program partners and project evaluators; and 9 external Strategy stakeholders including key individuals involved in issues related to the Strategy at the provincial, territorial and municipal levels, as well as key academics and experts;
  • Five learning circles staged across Canada, including three involving components of the Prevention Action Plan and two involving components of the Treatment Action Plan. In total, 44 stakeholders participated in these sessions;
  • Five case studies including two related to the Prevention Action Plan, two for the Treatment Action Plan, and one related to the Enforcement Action Plan;
  • An online survey of eight proponents funded under the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Drug Treatment Models component of the Treatment Action Plan;
  • A cost-efficiency analysis; and
  • Three focus groups to assist in triangulating the results of the evaluation. In total, 23 representatives from the Strategy departments participated in the focus groups.

4. Key Findings and Conclusions

All lines of evidence indicate a strong continuing need for the Strategy.

Illicit drug use is a continuing concern for Canadians, particularly given the involvement of youth and other vulnerable populations, the economic costs, concerns regarding emerging issues, and a desire for safer and healthier communities. The rate of drug use among youth aged 15 to 24 years remains much higher than that reported among adults 25 years and older. The average age of first use is just 15.7 years. Footnote 2 Justice Canada’s 2008 report on the Costs of Crime in Canada Footnote 3 estimated that the costs associated with illicit drug use in Canada totalled $1.3 billion in additional health care costs for illicit drug users, $2 billion in justice-related costs (police, courts, and correctional services), and $5.3 billion in productivity losses for illicit drug users. Emerging issues such as illicit use of pharmaceuticals, drug-impaired driving, and major local drug issues (e.g. Marihuana Grow Operations [MGOs], compassion clubs, and gang migration) have been highlighted as areas requiring immediate attention. In addition, Canada has a role to enhance international cooperation and respond to the production and trafficking of illicit drugs, particularly marihuana and synthetic drugs. There was consensus amongst evaluation interviewees that there is a continuing need for programming that contributes to a reduction in demand for illicit drugs and disruption of illicit drug operations in a safe manner while targeting criminal organizations at the national and international levels.

The Strategy is consistent with the Government of Canada’s priorities and roles and responsibilities.

Almost all (98%; n=50) departmental representatives confirmed that the objectives of the Strategy are consistent with the strategic outcomes and priorities of the Government of Canada. The relevance of the Strategy and its alignment with the governmental priorities have been demonstrated through recent Speeches from the Throne (2011, 2010 and 2007) as well as the federal government’s focus on tackling crime and creating safer and healthier communities. The role of the federal government is founded in key legislation and international conventions and protocols in areas relevant to the Strategy’s activities.

Each of the three action plans has made considerable progress against their intended outcomes, particularly the immediate outcomes.

The Prevention Action Plan of the Strategy has demonstrated progress in increasing awareness of illicit drugs and their consequences, enhancing support for at-risk populations, and improving community knowledge. In particular, the Mass Media Campaign and Drugs and Organized Crime Awareness Services (DOCAS) have shown a major impact in increasing awareness and understanding of illicit drugs. The reoriented funding of the National Crime Prevention Centre (NCPC) and Drug Strategy Community Initiatives Fund (DSCIF) have supported projects that better enable youth, parents, caregivers and at-risk populations to make informed decisions about illicit drug use. Knowledge has been created and made available through the various activities of the Prevention Action Plan, although more work is required to facilitate community uptake of that knowledge. Evaluation participants noted that a significant change in public opinion and behaviour requires longer than a three- or four-year period to be observed and measured.

The Treatment Action Plan components are integrated sufficiently to support achievement of the Strategy objectives of developing innovative and collaborative approaches to drug treatment. All components of the Treatment Action Plan have enhanced the capacity to plan and deliver treatment services and programs. Although implementation of the Drug Treatment Funding Program (DTFP) was slower than expected, the Program has provided funding to strengthen treatment systems and treatment services in six provinces and one territory. The National Native Alcohol and Drug Abuse Program (NNADAP) has enhanced the capacity of treatment services and programs among First Nations and Inuit communities, while the Drug Treatment Court Funding Program (DTCFP) has contributed to reduced drug use behaviour and criminal recidivism compared to conventional justice system responses in the six funded sites. CIHR- Research on Drug Treatment Models, NNADAP and DTFP were highlighted as the components that placed greatest emphasis on collaboration as a means to improve responses and share knowledge regarding treatment issues. The Treatment Action Plan has enhanced provincial and territorial commitments in some areas, but there are concerns among funding recipients and departmental representatives about the sustainability of funded projects once the Strategy funding ends. Evaluation participants expressed concern regarding the potential uptake of successful pilot projects and best practices by treatment systems. The Treatment Action Plan also faced some early challenges in developing partnerships and collaborations.

The Enforcement Action Plan has made significant progress in expanding partnerships, increasing capacity and awareness of drug enforcement and other related stakeholders, and improving activities to reduce the production and movement of illicit drugs nationally and internationally. The Strategy increased capacity for drug enforcement and prosecution of illicit drug producers and distributors, to gather and share intelligence, analyze evidence, and control and monitor controlled substances. In addition, the Enforcement Action Plan raised awareness of illicit drugs and precursor chemical issues among enforcement officers in Canada and abroad through workshops, training and information sessions as well as joint law enforcement efforts. It also contributed to international supply reduction efforts through engagement in bilateral and multilateral consultations and meetings, as well as international drug policy fora. The Strategy has contributed to increased safety in dismantling illicit drug operations through support provided during dismantlement activities, training of police officers and others involved in dismantling operations, as well as by raising awareness among the general public. A major achievement of this action plan is the development of ad hoc partnerships among its participants; for example, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) undertook a joint project to enhance their intelligence capacity and the CBSA, Health Canada, Public Safety Canada, the RCMP and Justice Canada held discussions to establish policies and procedures to advance effectiveness in controlling, handling and destroying seized precursor chemicals. There are, however, challenges in measuring impacts of this action plan since investigations take a long time and the results are not always quantifiable. It is also difficult for partners to isolate the impact of the Strategy funding from other sources of funding available for their activities. In addition, enforcement partners noted that the system for amending regulations with respect to controlling precursor chemicals is not quick enough to allow law enforcement to respond in a timely manner. Finally, it was noted that addressing the manufacture and production of illicit drugs will require a long-term concerted effort.

A variety of factors has contributed to and constrained the efficiency of the Strategy.

The Strategy has benefited from the three-pronged approach, which delivers an appropriate mix of policies, programs and services. It has built on existing resources and added new programming to fill various gaps. The Strategy features a clear focus and coordinated approach, an effective governance structure, strong leadership and commitment, and a high level of communication within and across participating departments as well as with other organizations and stakeholders. Individual components were able to efficiently utilize available resources by leveraging funding from other sources, making use of cost-effective approaches, and working closely with other departments and stakeholders.

In the short term, the efficiency of the Strategy was constrained by a number of factors including the challenges associated with creating such a large, complex horizontal initiative, and the start-up time associated with establishing new components or expanding the capacity of existing activities. Efficiency has also been impacted by certain regulatory issues (e.g. regulatory restrictions on sharing information, processes involved in implementing amendments), competing priorities, and the limited availability of complementary services in some regions or communities. The low public profile of the Strategy may have impacted efficiency by reducing stakeholder involvement and interest in the Strategy.

Those interviewed as well as focus group participants provided suggestions on how to improve efficiency and better accomplish the Strategy’s objectives. The major themes are to improve collaboration across the action plans, coordinate and strengthen knowledge transfer activities, further build on the evidence-based approach, and strengthen the links with international stakeholders.

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