In this afternoon’s debate on the Misuse of Drugs Act (1971), I advocated for a health-centred approach to drug policy.
After fifty years of failure, it is time to try something new.
Problematic drug or alcohol deaths are higher in areas of significant deprivation. It is not an individual moral failing but a complex interplay of economic, societal, and familial factors which affect someone’s chances of developing substance misuse issues.
In the late 1960s, about 1% of adults had used drugs at some point in their life. This figure is now 34%.
Heroin use has risen more than 25-fold since 1971, whilst cannabis use has risen more than 5-fold.
Tens of thousands have been imprisoned hundreds of thousands of years have been served.
More enforcement will not solve the problem.
I am a member of the Drugs, Alcohol & Justice Cross-Party Parliamentary Group, which stands for “evidence not prejudice in policy – and treatment not punishment in practice.”
The Group is advised by Humankind, WithYou & Westminster Drug Project, charities which together support around 148,000 people across the UK each year.
Although the third sector is well placed to support those with complex needs and vulnerabilities – and has the talent and tenacity to do this – it has lacked resources, due to years of cuts to local budgets.
Significant and sustained investment is needed now to rebuild and reinvigorate our services – we are storing up problems for the future in the way services are delivered at present.
In order to address health inequalities effectively and create change for people who are most affected by these inequalities, the government needs to commit to a public health approach, rather than a criminal justice approach, to drug policy.
All drug-related deaths are preventable, but regrettably they are rising. This is due to the disinvestment in treatment services, the criminalisation of (often extremely vulnerable) people who use drugs, an ageing cohort and long-term health conditions.
A health-centred approach, with increased funding for drug treatment services, would help those people most at risk, as well as the wider community.
A health-centred approach would have a positive impact on the criminal justice system by supporting police, prison and probation services to divert people with drug or alcohol issues into treatment rather than into custody.
Over 25 countries across the world have decriminalised possession of some or all drugs. International evidence shows that alternative drug policy is possible and effective.
There is no reason for us to remain trapped by laws passed half a century ago.