Monday, 21 January 2013

Tide is Turning on Drugs

I guess Tim Hollis, the soon-to-retire Chief Constable of Humberside, felt there was no harm in firing a broadside at his political masters at the Home Office before he hung his hat up. He speaks for the Association of Chief Police Officers on drug matters and feels the time has come to move responsibility for drug policy back to the Department of Health, ironically from whence it came. He feels that continuing to wage a 'war on drugs' alone is not working and another approach is necessary.  

It will come as no surprise that such a sensible suggestion has absolutely no support from the Home Office or indeed right-leaning outfits like the Centre for Policy Studies. But not surprisingly the British Medical Association are pretty keen on the idea and have recently published a report Drugs of Dependence : the Role of Medical Professionals that makes a strong case for treating drug issues as a health matter. The BMA wants:-

  • A debate on the most effective approaches to preventing and reducing the harm associated with illegal drug use and drug-control policies, based on an independent and objective review of the evidence contained in the report
  • To encourage dialogue between the medical profession and policy makers, legislators, the police, service providers and academics who have knowledge and expertise in this area
  • To examine the doctor’s role in the medical management of drug dependence and the ethical challenges of working within the criminal justice system.
All this activity has to be seen in the context of Nick Clegg's recent very public statement that he feels the war on drugs is not working, together with the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee work on drug policy and their recent report. 

At long last we are beginning to see evidence that some politicians are 'seeing the light' and are starting to talk sensibly about drug policy here in the UK. In particular I note that the penny is finally dropping that methadone is not the only answer to dealing with heroin use and that a return to limited prescribing might be a good idea, ie as the situation was prior to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. The Select Committee report states:- 

"We recommend that a proper evaluation is conducted of diamorphine prescribing for heroin addiction in the UK, with a view to discovering its effectiveness on a range of health and social indicators, and its cost effectiveness as compared with methadone prescribing regimes."

"New evidence which has emerged in the decade since our predecessor Committee's Report on drugs suggests that diamorphine is, for a small number of heroin addicts, more effective than methadone in reducing the use of street heroin. It is disappointing therefore that more progress has not been made in establishing national guidelines for the prescription of diamorphine as a heroin substitute. We recommend that the Government publish, by the end of July 2013, clear guidance on when and how diamorphine should be used in substitution therapy."

Just like buses, reports all seem to come along at the same time with this contribution from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy Reform and a report on their inquiry into 'legal highs'. It seems we really are seeing some common sense emerging on the subject of drugs. There is no doubt in my mind that the whole probation landscape would change dramatically if our drug policies were revisited as a matter of urgency. From the APPG, this is just a taster of how the tide is turning :- 

"For forty years drug policy has been driven by the Misuse of Drugs Act.  Possession, use and supply of cannabis, ecstasy, amphetamines, cocaine and heroin are criminal offences, all potentially carrying lengthy prison sentences.   There was a consensus amongst many of the experts presenting evidence to the Inquiry that the Misuse of Drugs Act is urgently in need of reform.  Of its 40 sections, only 10 remain in use, but those ten are causing serious risks to the many young people, (though not only young people) who are determined to experiment with drugs.  Almost all the rest of us depend upon our own drugs of choice, whether alcohol or tobacco, both of which are far more dangerous than ecstasy."

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