Home Office told to give up drugs

Current drugs policy is not working and needs to be radically restructured, a commission on illegal drugs has recommended.

Drug addiction should be treated as a chronic health and social problem, not a crime, the RSA commission recommends, with responsibility for drugs policy transferring from the Home Office to Department for Communities and Local Government.

Drugs – Facing Facts concludes that the primary focus of drugs policy should be to minimise harm and calls on the government to produce a “consistent and comprehensive” drugs policy informed by this principle.

Professor Anthony King, chairman, RSA Drugs Commission said: “One of the themes of this report has been the need to shift drugs policy away from its current focus on crime reduction and the criminal justice system and onto a concern with drugs as posing a much more varied and complex set of social problems.

“Drugs in our society are not just about crime; they are about individual health, public health, family life and the health and well-being of entire communities. It cannot be good for the UK that it is currently the drug-using centre of Europe.”

After spending two years studying drug use and laws in the UK, the RSA commission urges ministers to scrap the Misuse of Drugs Act and replace it with a Misuse of Substances Act, which incorporates alcohol and tobacco and grades substances according to the harm caused.

“We urge ministers to set in train work on a new Misuse of Substances Act and to undertake with urgency the task of re-orienting drugs policy and redirecting it towards a broader conception of harm prevention and reduction. Current policy is broke and needs to be fixed,” concluded Professor King.

Sir Menzies Campbell, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, declared the report a wake up call that the current drug policies are not working.

“The drug problem is complex and not susceptible to simplistic solutions,” he said. “We need a non-partisan debate about the way forward.”

However, the Home Office defended its strategy as a success, claiming significant progress has been made in addressing drug misuse.

A spokesman argued: “Since 1998 the government has invested unprecedented sums in tackling drugs, given greater powers to the police and delivered pioneering education campaigns to young people.

“This has delivered results. Record numbers of people are now entering and staying in treatment, Class A drug misuse among young people has stabilised while the use of other illegal drugs has fallen and drug related crime is down.”

He added: “We are not complacent however and we will continue to look to improve our work in this area wherever we can.”

The commissioned estimated there are 350,000 problematic drug users in the UK.