Decriminalising drug possession could stop rising deaths, MPs say

A cross-party group of MPs has released a report that calls for the decriminalisation of some drug offences.

The report by the Health and Social Care Committee claims that the current approach to drugs is ‘clearly failing’ and suggests that government policy should focus on healthcare rather than prosecution.

The UK has some of the highest drug death rates in Europe which chair of the committee, Dr Sarah Wollaston, says has risen to the scale of a public health emergency.

Following budget cuts of nearly 30% over the past three years the committee is calling for a radical change to UK drugs policy and has suggested that drug possession for personal use should be treated as a civil matter, rather than a criminal offence, which it says would save money from the criminal justice system and allow for more investment in prevention and treatment.

The committee said that funding should be made available to ensure that life-saving harm reduction services, including needle and syringe exchanges, take-home overdose reversal drugs and drug consumption rooms are accessible to all those who could benefit from them.

Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, said:

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

‘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.

‘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.

‘There also needs to be a radical upgrade in treatment for those who are dependent on drugs and this should begin without delay.’

Spokesperson for drug and alcohol charity Addaction, Karen Tyrell, welcomed the report, saying it was time to offer people dependant on drugs support and compassion. She said:

‘It’s clear that our current drug policies aren’t working so we warmly welcome this report and hope it reaches those in power.

‘Trying to arrest our way out of the problem has been a monumental failure. It’s time to offer people the compassion and support they need.

‘We need drug policies that focus on reducing harm and helping people access support. This means properly funded treatment services, easy to access medications and new evidence-based harm reduction measures like drug consumption rooms and drug testing facilities.’

A government spokesman said decriminalising drug possession wouldn’t address the damage drug dependency does to families and communities. The spokesman said:

‘We are committed to reducing the use of drugs and the harms they cause and the Home Office has commissioned a major independent review to examine these issues.

‘We must prevent drug use in our communities, support people through treatment and recovery, and tackle the supply of illegal drugs.

‘The government has no plans to decriminalise drug possession. The decriminalisation of drug possession in the UK would not eliminate the crime committed by the illicit trade, nor would it address the harms associated with drug dependence and the misery that this can cause to families and communities.’

Picture Caption – Pixabay


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