By Emily Ledger
Drugs in the UK have been prohibited and criminalised for probably as long as any of us can remember. Although it might be difficult to imagine, evidence across health and social sectors points to the need for a UK drug policy reform, according to a cross-party group of influential MPs.
The Health and Social Care Committee was chaired by Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Wollaston, and including a number of high-profile MPs, including Minister for Military Personnel and Veterans Johnny Mercer.
It claims that the so-called ‘War on Drugs’ has long been ineffective, and stresses the need for drastic changes to the country’s drug policy – namely, decriminalisation of drugs. The committee put forward a report today with key findings and recommendations to the government.
The War on Drugs, which was adopted by most of the worldwide community in the 20th century, has proved ineffective, as record numbers of people continue to use drugs of all descriptions. To prove this point, London was recently found to have the highest number of cocaine users in the whole world.
What’s more, it has also proven fatal, as large numbers of people continue to die from preventable overdoses. Our current policy does not encourage users to seek help for addictions, nor does it pioneer treatment research.
Liberal Democrat MP, Sarah Wollaston, said:
“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.”
For decades, it has been argued that drug use should be treated as a civil issue, as opposed to a criminal one. However, prohibition has continued, and so has the rise in drug-related deaths. In 2018, the number of drug-related deaths reached an all-time high since records began in 1993.
The report has stressed the need for an independent review and consultation on decriminalisation should be carried out as a matter of urgency. It has also recommended that investment be made available for the urgent development of prevention methods and treatments.
The MPs particularly stress the need for needle and syringe exchanges and take-home naloxone, which can reverse the effects of opioids.
The proposals call for the government to take inspiration from alternative drug policies in other countries. Such as in Portugal, where all drugs were decriminalised in 2001. Since the policy change, “drug-related deaths, incarceration and infection rates have plummeted“.
Despite the calls, the government has claimed that it has no plans to decriminalise any drugs.
A government spokesperson claimed:
“The decriminalisation of drugs 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.”
The calls come after a group of cross-party MPs called for the legalisation of recreational Cannabis in the UK. The three MPs predicted that the plant would be legalised in the UK within 5-10 years, following an educational visit to Canada.