UK drug policy

Get real

Prison Door - illustrating drug use in prisons

The government’s drug policies are not grounded in reality, says law student Alice Gambell

Reading the government’s annual review of its 2010 drugs strategy, it would seem that, despite the wealth of evidence that suggests its policies are counter-productive, the Home Office doesn’t want to listen to anyone’s advice.

The government says that drug use and mandatory drug testing in prisons are down – but is any of this really true?

The figures that the government uses are from the Crime Survey of England and Wales (CSEW). Those who conduct the survey admit these figures are not necessarily reliable – an unknown proportion of respondents may not report their behaviour honestly, and the estimates of prevalence in the findings may be considered lower than the true level of illicit drug use within the general population because of the nature of the survey’s questions.

With regard to mandatory testing (MDT) in prisons, the report claims that positive drug tests are down, as if this is an indication that drug use in prisons is decreasing. HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) has said that MDT figures are not an accurate reflection of drug use in the prison estate, and that the decline in positive tests does not mean a decline in drug use.

One thing that is true, and that the government fails to even mention in its report, is that drug-related deaths are increasing, as are post-release drug-related deaths. This is a direct result of the government’s drug policy, yet they are failing to do anything about it.

Basing policies on skewed statistics will never result in anything other than further harm. Criminalising drugs and sticking to a purely abstinence-based approach will not make drug use disappear. It only puts people in danger, increases stigmatisation, and places unrealistic conditions on those would benefit from harm reduction practices.