It's all looking a bit bleak for drugs 'czar' Keith Hellawell. But is criticism of his apparent lack of progress fair? Janet Snell reports

The drug czar's lot is not a happy one. Two years into his job as UK anti-drugs co-ordinator, former chief constable Keith Hellawell is facing mounting flak.

Despite the government's insistence that its strategy to combat illegal drug-tak - ing is a 10-year initiative, there is already increasing impatience for results.

Mr Hellawell has complained of a 'whispering campaign' against him, and it is clear that some civil servants remain uncomfortable about working with 'an outsider' and an ex-policeman to boot.

His boss, Cabinet office minister Mo Mowlam, who earlier this month announced a recruitment campaign to find 300 extra specialists in the treat - ment of drug misuse, has attempted to bolster his position.

But even she has conceded that the initiative has not had the impact it might.

Last month she said: 'The measures now in place will take time to make their impact. We must be realistic but not defeatist.'

The Home Office is said to be 'less than impressed' by his record to date.

Unsurprisingly, few are willing to speak out. But senior charity workers linked closely to Mr Hellawell's team say civil servants resent him as someone 'parachuted in from outside'.

But are the claims that he has failed to deliver justified?

Roger Howard, chief executive of the Standing Committee on Drug Abuse, thinks not, though he does have a number of concerns.

'It's too early to make an informed judgement. The strategy has not been given a chance to work, ' he says.

'People point to figures suggesting that drug consumption seems to be rising, but that data mainly relates to 1998.'

Most of the extra resources allocated to the drug strategy in last year's comprehensive spending review - some£217m over three years, plus assets seized from drug barons - is being channelled through the criminal justice system.

But Mr Howard believes there is an issue over the allocation of cash for education and treatment.

'NHS and voluntary sector treatment agencies have been desperately disappointed that more money has gone into enforcement rather than tackling the public health dimension.

'There are still long waiting times for access to treatment in some parts of the country. And there's virtually nothing being done about hepatitis C, which is a real public health timebomb. Between 60 and 80 per cent of intravenous drug users are infected.'

He cites the Department of Health-funded national treatment outcome research study, which shows treatment does work. One year into the study, the number of users abstaining from heroin and methadone use had more than doubled, compared with those not receiving treatment. 'Yet it only receives 13 per cent of national resources and that's a major imbalance, ' Mr Howard says.

An internal DoH survey shows that there are about 612 drug treatment centres in the NHS, compared with 560 at the last full count in 1992.

A separate DOH-funded snapshot survey for SCODA found an average wait of 14 weeks to get an assessment, another month to be taken on to a rehabilitation programme and around four months to be allocated a place as an inpatient in an NHS detox unit.

Local waiting times and local co-ordination of the strategy are handled by the UK's 111 local drug and alcohol teams, made up of experts, including representatives from health authorities, the police, magistrates and voluntary bodies.

Dr Dee Kyle, a member of the Bradford team and the town's director of public health, says: 'There are no quick fixes. It's going to be a long, hard slog, but unfortunately the politicians like a new wheeze a week and you have to keep them on board somehow.'

Dr Kyle says she feels that much of the criticism of Mr Hellawell is unfair.

'He has spoken about concentrating our efforts on hard drugs rather than cannabis, and that does make sense.

'I have to prioritise our efforts to tackle illegal drugs alongside other health priorities and I think it's reasonable to focus on heroin and cocaine as they are the main problems, certainly in this area.'

She adds that the fact that Mr Hellawell spends much of his time travelling up and down the country listening to local feedback counted in his favour.

Her colleague on the local drug and alcohol team, Geoff Hinds, who heads the Bridge Project for substance misusers, says organisations like his are looking for some clarity of purpose.

'What are we trying to change and what can we realistically change? We are not getting a clear lead on this.'

He is also concerned that the current system is unwieldy. 'What we have witnessed at local level is just how time-consuming the whole planning process is. The drug and alcohol teams seem to be asked to produce a great deal of information on almost a continuous basis.'

But he adds that he was impressed with Mr Hellawell's grasp of the issues. 'He is trying to give a steer, but the problem is he is having to face in too many directions at once.'

Visiting professor at York University Ray Rowden agrees. 'He's stymied by the hang 'em and flog 'em brigade. Mowlam and Hellawell are talking a lot of sense and their views chime more with the reality of the streets I live on.

'If we go down the road suggested by William Hague and his ilk, with policies such as no-drug zones around every school, then we're going to have to build a lot more prisons but we're not going to sort out our drug problem.'