The 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act is outdated and should be reformed to support ‘greater use of public health-based drug interventions’, says a report from the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee.
The committee wants to see a new legislative framework that includes consumption room pilots and drug testing at festivals, with better joint working between health, social services and police. However, there should also be an ‘appropriate’ criminal justice response, it states, with law enforcement doing all it can to ’stamp out the illicit trade of controlled drugs’ –bolstered by a stronger public health framework that keeps people out of addiction and the criminal justice sector.
While the government’s drug strategy helped to shift the focus towards public health, it is unlikely to achieve its aims without a ‘significant expansion in the range and availability of health-based interventions’, the report warns. The government should learn from locally developed schemes that are having a positive impact, it adds. However, the document also expresses concern about the long-term sustainability of funding for the drug sector, questioning whether the two-year period of the latest funding allocation is enough for service providers to ‘embed change’.
The drugs classifications system should be reviewed by ACMD to make sure it accurately reflects the risk of harm – with additional reviews carried out every ten years – the document states, with psychedelic drugs reclassified to support research into their therapeutic use. However, the committee does not believe that cannabis should be legalised or regulated for non-medical use.
Among the report’s other recommendations are a UK-wide, postal-based anonymous drug checking service, centralised funding for diamorphine-assisted treatment, a national naloxone programme for England, and more use of schemes to divert people away from the criminal justice system. Trauma-informed practices should be used by all police forces when dealing with drug offending, it adds, with more done to ensure that vulnerable young people exploited by county lines gangs are kept out of the criminal justice system.
‘Whilst the drug strategy is moving in the right direction, it requires much more meaningful action to tackle the broad range of drug-related problems,’ said committee chair Dame Diana Johnson.
‘The criminal justice system will need to continue to do all it can to break up the criminal gangs that drive the trade in illicit drugs. However, it must also recognise that many children and young people involved need to be supported to escape, not punished for their involvement. Fundamentally, we need to have the right interventions in place to help people break free from the terrible cycles of addiction and criminality that drug addiction can cause. Simply attempting to remove drugs from people’s lives hasn’t worked. They need the right support to let them deal with addiction, but also psychosocial support and interventions that deal with the underlying trauma that may have led them to drugs in the first place.’
Read the report here