Possession of illegal drugs should be decriminalised, according to a group of MPs who are lobbying the government to change the law.
The health and social care committee has said that the move should be made to combat the rising number of drug deaths, which it calls a “public health emergency”.
MPs called for a radical new policy towards drugs in the UK, as it claimed the current approach was clearly failing. However the government has said that it has no plans to decriminalise the possession of illegal drugs.
Drug deaths ‘emergency’
The committee’s report found that 2,670 deaths in the UK were attributed to drug misuse in 2018. This was an increase of 16 per cent on the year before.
And this number would double if the other causes of premature deaths among people who used drugs were included.
The report said, “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.
“This report shows how the rate of drug-related deaths has risen to the scale of a public health emergency.”
The report recommended an approach similar to that which was adopted in Portugal, which included improving treatment services, introducing harm reduction interventions and improving education and social support.
The report adds, “Decriminalisation of possession for personal use saves money from the criminal justice system and allows for more investment in prevention and treatment.
“Decriminalisation of possession for personal use saves money from the criminal justice system and allows for more investment in prevention and treatment.
“Decriminalisation will not be effective without investing in holistic harm reduction, support and treatment services for drug addiction. Doing so would save lives and provide better protection for communities.”
The report also argued that responsibility to drug policy should be with the Department for Health and Social Care rather than the Home Office, and that cuts to drug treatment services should be reversed.
Committee chairman, Dr Sarah Wollaston, said decriminalisation alone “would not be sufficient” and there needed to be a “radical upgrade in treatment and holistic care for those who are dependent on drugs, and this should begin without delay.”
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 Government should learn lessons from the international experience, including countries like Portugal and Frankfurt.”
A government spokesperson said, “The decriminalisation of drug 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.
“We are committed to reducing the use of drugs and the harms they cause, and the Home Office has commissioned a major independent review to examine these issues.
“We must prevent drug use in our communities, support people through treatment and recovery, and tackle the supply of illegal drugs.”