The current approach to drugs has gone to pot

Mike Morgan-Giles argues that British drugs policy is a serious failure of evidence-based policymaking, and that we can learn many lessons from overseas.

Reports earlier in the week indicated that deaths caused by drug misuse are now three times higher in the UK than the EU average.  Furthermore, this increased from 49 deaths per one million people in 2006 to 59 per one million in 2009, a 20 per cent rise.

In spite of drug use decreasing in recent years, hospital admissions from drug poisoning and for associated mental health reasons have actually increased.

But what we continue to see is an approach from senior politicians towards drug use that is completely at odds with the reality of the situation.

For example, in 2006, the science and technology select committee described the current drug classification system as arbitrary and unscientific.  However, there was no real determination from senior political figures to see any reforms through.

The current prime minister also changed his stance on drug reform after the opportunity to become Tory leader arose.  Back in 2002, he had been part of the home affairs select committee who proposed downgrading ecstasy and a initiating a focus on drug harm reduction.

The Home Office has been complicit in the failed approach for a number of years. This included the sacking of drugs expert Professor David Nutt in 2009 for speaking out against the government’s politicised, unscientific approach.

The previous government exacerbated this with decisions to ignore advice from their own Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs as did the current one by removing scientific experts from its panel. And just last weekend, the Department briefed out dodgy, politicised statistics on drug seizures to journalists.

This unsustainable and reactive model of prohibition actually perpetuates greater harm to drug users – and causes major problems to the people and environment in developing countries in places such as South America.

However, many experts are now beginning to call for a radical new approach to drugs policy.

Bob Ainsworth, the former minister for drugs called on them to be legalised recently, while Professor Nutt said after the new figures were released that “the old banning approach isn’t working”.

International figures, such as Kofi Annan, former US secretary of state George Schultz and former Presidents of Mexico, Brazil and Columbia have also come out in a recent report and argued that the ‘war on drugs’ has failed.

Currently, those suffering from drug addiction are left to fend for themselves or forced onto the prison conveyor belt. Addiction and misuse is really a health issue and only leads to crime when users are unable to properly look after themselves.

Furthermore, currently drug seizures by police and customs lead to variations in drug purity on the black market.  This results in a dangerous situation whereby users don’t know which chemicals are contained in the drugs they buy.

It’s like going to the chemist for your prescription and being given a random cocktail of substances from behind the counter.

Drug seizures also often result in prices of drugs increasing, as overall supply within the market drops. However, a leaked Number 10 Strategy Unit report from 2003 confirmed that higher prices from drug seizures could actually lead to increases in crime.

In fact, there are seemingly endless problems with the current approach. Clearly a change of stance is politically challenging, but it needs to be communicated that the current approach only makes the situation worse.

Whilst the path from the current situation to the goal of Annan and Ainsworth is long and arduous, smaller steps can be taken.

An important one, which Portugal and Russia have already made, is the decriminalisation of drug use, with a shift instead to harm reduction with the Department of Health leading the way. In Portugal, this approach has led to drug misuse halving in the past ten years.

Treatment is effective and wouldn’t cost a penny – indeed it would lead to huge savings in probation, prison, courts and police time, in addition to a reduction in acquisitive crime, prostitution, homelessness and further benefits to society.

Now is the time to start tackling drug misuse by focusing on the health issues rather than criminalising yet another generation of people.

See also:

UN World Drug Report offers more evidence global drug policy is behind the timesMatt Owen, June 28th 2011

Sentencing Bill: Drug users still need more practical helpRoger Howard, June 21st 2011

Lucas: Drug addiction should be a health issue not a criminal oneCaroline Lucas MP, June 16th 2011

On drugs policy, the government should do what the evidence tells themDr Michael Shiner, June 5th 2011

The government’s drug policy: If it’s broken don’t fix itDominic Browne, June 2nd 2011

25 Responses to “The current approach to drugs has gone to pot”

  1. Will McDonald

    .@mgonthemike argues the current approach to drugs has gone to pot: http://t.co/QVQIyPxi

  2. Political Planet

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  3. Michael

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  4. Jo Galloway

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  5. DrKMJ

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  7. Samantha Johnston

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  8. Mike Morgan-Giles

    .@mgonthemike argues the current approach to drugs has gone to pot: http://t.co/QVQIyPxi

  9. Jeni Acelas

    True analysis but terrible pun! "@leftfootfwd: .@mgonthemike argues the current approach to drugs has gone to pot: http://t.co/xrYoh3Nv"

  10. James Lancaster

    .@mgonthemike argues the current approach to drugs has gone to pot: http://t.co/QVQIyPxi

  11. Mike Morgan-Giles

    @mikerobb Nice article on Virgin Bank mate. Rather see lots of small mutual banks though. Just written new article – http://t.co/810SSH0i

  12. Mike Morgan-Giles

    @jlancaster10 Interesting article on pensions mate. Just written new one myself on illegal drugs – http://t.co/810SSH0i

  13. Mike Morgan-Giles

    @DCWood1986 Just written new article on illegal drugs if you're interested mate – http://t.co/810SSH0i

  14. Mike Morgan-Giles

    @TransformDrugs In case of interest, article for @leftfootfwd today on why current drug policy isn't working – http://t.co/810SSH0i

  15. Lukas Davis

    http://t.co/G2FY9Vgh The current approach to drugs has gone to pot – Left Foot Forward

  16. Clay Simmons

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  17. melanie

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  18. donald james pearl

    RT @leftfootfwd: The current approach to drugs has gone to pot http://t.co/bNLZaiOK

  19. mikerobb

    @mikerobb Nice article on Virgin Bank mate. Rather see lots of small mutual banks though. Just written new article – http://t.co/810SSH0i

  20. Elias Greenma

    http://t.co/3bdoUSiM The current approach to drugs has gone to pot | Left Foot Forward: Mik… http://t.co/eJhrQClp http://t.co/z1ZlBig4

  21. Look Left – Tories past and present battle to out-nasty each other | Left Foot Forward

    […] as Mike Morgan-Giles wrote on Left Foot Forward yesterday, rather than adopting an evidence-based drugs policy to deal with […]

  22. Mr. Sensible

    I just do not accept the pro-decriminalization argument. More treatment and rehap yes, but don’t legitimize drug use.

  23. Mike Morgan-Giles

    #Columbian president says western #drug use is harming their country – http://t.co/DvjIHcYS – see article – http://t.co/810SSH0i

  24. Rory

    What Mr Sensible forgets is not one person has been arrested for tobacco possession; and yet usage of that drug has plummeted.
    Education Yes.
    Treatment if needed – yes.

    Jail? Are you kidding me?

  25. The government's drug policy favours dogma over harm reduction | Left Foot Forward

    […] also: • The current approach to drugs has gone to pot – Mike Morgan-Giles, November 19th […]

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