COMMONS

Radical change needed in approach to UK drugs policy

23 October 2019

A health focused and harm reduction approach would not only benefit those who are using drugs but reduce harm to and the costs for their wider communities say the Health and Social Care Committee in its report on drugs policy.

Radical Change

Evidence heard throughout this inquiry leads the Committee to conclude that UK drugs policy is clearly failing.

The United Kingdom has some of the highest drug death rates in Europe, particularly in Scotland. This Report shows how the rate of drug-related deaths has risen to the scale of a public health emergency.

The Committee recommends a radical change in approach to UK drugs policy, moving from the current criminal justice approach to a health approach, with responsibility for drugs policy moving from the Home Office to the Department of Health and Social Care.

Decriminalisation

This Report encourages the Government to consult on the decriminalisation of drug possession for personal use from a criminal offence to a civil matter.

The Government should examine the Portuguese system, where decriminalisation was implemented as part of a comprehensive approach to drugs.

The Portuguese system also included improving treatment services, introducing harm reduction interventions, and better education, prevention and social support.

Decriminalisation of possession for personal use saves money from the criminal justice system and allows for more investment in prevention and treatment.

Decriminalisation will not be effective without investing in holistic harm reduction, support and treatment services for drug addiction. Doing so would save lives and provide better protection for communities.

Improving treatment

A holistic, non-judgemental harm reduction approach is needed which will facilitate access to services.

Following budget cuts of nearly 30% over the past three years, the Government must now direct significant investment into drug treatment services as a matter of urgency.

This investment should be accompanied by a centrally co-ordinated clinical audit to ensure that guidelines are being followed in the best interests of vulnerable patients.

Reducing harm

Sufficient funding should be made available to ensure that harm reduction services which save lives – including needle and syringe exchanges, and take-home naloxone - are accessible to all those who could benefit from them.

Drug Consumption Rooms (DCRs) should be introduced on a pilot basis in areas of high need, accompanied by robust evaluation of their outcomes.

Every drug related death is preventable 

Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, says:

"Every drug death should be regarded as preventable and yet across the UK, the number of drugs related deaths continue to rise to the scale of a public health emergency. UK drugs policy is clearly failing.

Recommendations put forward in this Report propose changes to drugs policy that are desperately needed to prevent thousands of deaths.

Avoidable drug deaths are increasing year on year across the UK but there has been a failure to act on the evidence. Scotland is particularly hard hit with the highest death rate in Europe.

A holistic approach centred on improving the health of and reducing the harm faced by drug users, as well as increasing the treatment available, must be a priority going forward. This approach would not only benefit those who are dependent on drugs but benefit their wider communities. We have focused on the evidence and call for the Department of Health and Social Care to take responsibility for drug policy going forward instead of the Home Office.

The Government should learn lessons from the international experience, including places like Portugal and Frankfurt. It should consult on the decriminalisation of drug possession for personal use from a criminal offence to a civil matter. Decriminalisation alone would not be sufficient. There needs to be a radical upgrade in treatment and holistic care for those who are dependent on drugs and this should begin without delay."

Further information

Image: drugs-syringe

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