The war on drugs is a fight we can’t win

Daily Mirror (Northern Ireland) - - DR MIRIAM STOPPARD -

To my mind, crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion of il­le­gal drugs is in­hu­mane and coun­ter­pro­duc­tive. The “war on drugs” hasn’t and doesn’t work. It’s high time we shifted our fo­cus from crim­i­nal pun­ish­ment to pub­lic health.

If this of­fends your ide­ol­ogy I should tell you that the Royal Col­lege of Physi­cians, the Bri­tish Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion, The Bri­tish Med­i­cal Jour­nal and the Royal So­ci­ety for Pub­lic Health are all call­ing for a drug pol­icy that pri­ori­tises health and hu­man rights, in­clud­ing reg­u­lated and le­galised sup­ply of drugs to re­duce vi­o­lent crim­i­nal trade.

An un­prece­dented 2,593 peo­ple were recorded as hav­ing died from drug mis­use in Eng­land and Wales in 2016. In 2016-17 in Eng­land, 14,053 peo­ple were ad­mit­ted to hospi­tal with drug poi­son­ing, up 40% in a decade.

And UK penal­ties for pos­ses­sion have been ex­tended to seven years’ im­pris­on­ment and un­lim­ited fines.

In a 2016 re­port, the Royal So­ci­ety for Pub­lic Health con­cluded the war on drugs fails to de­ter drug mis­use and stops peo­ple from seek­ing treat­ment.

It rec­om­mended the UK should con­sider the Por­tuguese model. It main­tains pro­hi­bi­tion, but in 2001 switched from crim­i­nal to civil jus­tice for non-vi­o­lent per­sonal use, while in­creas­ing in­vest­ment in preven­tion and treat­ment. Sen­si­bly, it also called for an ev­i­dence-based rather than ide­ol­ogy-based pol­icy, drug ed­u­ca­tion in schools, the Depart­ment of Health to take over re­spon­si­bil­ity for drug pol­icy from the Home Of­fice, and for our drug strat­egy to align with al­co­hol and to­bacco.

Jane Dacre, pres­i­dent of the Royal Col­lege of Physi­cians, said: “The crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem is not the place to ad­dress the of­ten com­plex needs of peo­ple ad­dicted to drugs. We are com­mit­ted to en­sur­ing that all peo­ple who need to do so are able to ac­cess timely and ap­pro­pri­ate preven­tion and care ser­vices.”

David Co­hen of the or­gan­i­sa­tion also added: “We don’t en­cour­age drug use, and we wouldn’t want to le­galise [the sup­ply of ] cur­rently il­le­gal drugs.”

The RCP joins The BMJ, BMA and RSPH rep­re­sent­ing 210,000 doc­tors and health-care pro­fes­sion­als in call­ing for drug pol­icy to shift fo­cus from crim­i­nal jus­tice to pub­lic health.

In 2016, The BMJ called for a drug pol­icy that pri­ori­tises health and hu­man rights, in­clud­ing reg­u­lated, le­galised sup­ply.

Fiona Godlee, The BMJ’S edi­tor-inchief, said: “De­crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion of use is an im­por­tant first step, and it is vi­tal the med­i­cal pro­fes­sion leads on this, but ul­ti­mately I be­lieve le­gal­i­sa­tion may well be the right so­lu­tion”.

The World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion sup­ports drug law re­form and Nor­way is de­crim­i­nal­is­ing drug use.

Time for a re­think.

Shift the fo­cus from crime to pub­lic health

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