MPs say UK's drug policy is 'clearly failing' and call for decriminalisation

23 October 2019, 10:58

A group of MPs have called for the decriminalisation of some drug offences
A group of MPs have called for the decriminalisation of some drug offences. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Politicians have called for a number of drug offences to be decriminalised in order to curb the rise in deaths from illegal substances.

The country's position on drugs is "clearly failing" and needs a "radical new approach", according to a report by the Health and Social Care Committee.

Drug possession for personal use should not be a crime and instead should be a civil matter with policy focusing on healthcare over prosecution, say the group.

It urged the government to look at the Portuguese system of decriminalisation and carry out a consultation into whether it would work in the UK.

They believe it will not only save the criminal justice system money, but it will also "save lives."

Lib Dem MP Sarah Wollaston chairs the committee
Lib Dem MP Sarah Wollaston chairs the committee. Picture: PA

Dr Sarah Wollaston MP chairs the committee and said decriminalisation alone "would not be sufficient" and there needed to be an immediate "radical upgrade in treatment" for those dependent on drugs.

She added: "Every drug death should be regarded as preventable and yet across the UK, the number of drugs-related deaths continues to rise to the scale of a public health emergency.

"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."

The committee suggested "sufficient funding" for alternative solutions, such as piloting drug consumption rooms where users can take drugs in safer environments such as healthcare facilities.

Another suggestion would be needle and syringe exchanges and "take home" naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of opioids.

Needle and syringe exchanges have been suggested
Needle and syringe exchanges have been suggested. Picture: PA

Last year England saw 2,670 deaths attributed to drug misuse which was up by 16 per cent on 2017.

The report added: "If other causes of premature death amongst people who use drugs were included, it is likely that this figure would approximately double.

"Evidence heard throughout this inquiry leads the committee to conclude that UK drugs policy is clearly failing. The United Kingdom has some of the highest drug death rates in Europe, particularly in Scotland."

It also suggested shifting the responsibility of drugs policy from the Home Office to the Department of Health and Social Care.

Dr Emily Finch, vice chairman of the addictions faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, called on the Government to "urgently invest significant sums of money into services" for treatment.

She added: "The increasing number of people needlessly dying from drug addiction shows the Government's approach to treating addictions is failing."

However, the government responded saying it "has no plans to decriminalise drug possession" and it remains "committed to reducing the use of drugs and the harms they cause."