Major overhaul of drugs policy needed to address a UK public health emergency
NAT (National AIDS Trust) emphatically welcomes the Health and Social Care Select Committee report on drugs policy. The report highlights the current drugs-related deaths crisis, with 2,670 deaths in the UK last year – an increase of 16% from the previous year and the highest on record - and calls on the Government to implement radical and innovative solutions to prevent further avoidable deaths.
Natasha Dhumma, Head of Policy and Campaigns at NAT, said: “We have long been concerned that the ineffective punitive approach to drugs adopted in the UK causes untold harms, especially to over-policed groups such as LGBT people, communities of colour and the poor. We are pleased that this report calls for a major overhaul in how we treat drug use in the UK. It proposes a comprehensive Government-led response and echoes many of our recommendations on how to address the current crisis and reduce harm to people who use drugs, their families and wider society. Crucially this means reframing the issue as a public health matter rather than one of criminal justice.”
The Committee has called for a Government consultation on decriminalising drugs for personal use, for significant investment in drug treatment and support services, and for drug consumption rooms (DCRs) to be piloted in areas with high need.
“We are encouraged that the report demands a reversal of the crippling funding cuts to drug treatment services of recent years. When compared to the cost of tackling drug use within the criminal justice system the notion that slashing public health budgets saves money is a fallacy. We share the Committee’s support for investment in critical needle exchange programmes to stop the transmission of blood borne viruses and drug consumption rooms (DCRs). These provide safer and supervised environments that benefit both people who inject drugs and local communities. We urge for legal barriers to be removed enabling local authorities to open DCRs as soon as possible.
“The Government’s inertia on drug related deaths is shameful. Instead of drawing on mounting international evidence that these harm reduction interventions save lives, it has stubbornly pursued a failing punitive agenda that has led to what this report declares a public health emergency.”
“We look forward to working with the Health and Social Care Committee to reposition drug policy as a public health issue and supporting the Government to develop a drug strategy fit for the 21st century.”
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Notes to editors:
The (currently-embargoed) Health and Social Care Committee report will be available to read on the Health and Social Care Committee website from Wednesday 23 October, 00.01am.
NAT have published an investigation into drug-related deaths in England which recommends increased funding and harm reduction interventions as essential to reducing the rate of deaths.
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