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An urgent new evidence-based approach is needed to tackle the UK’s drug crisis, reduce the number of drug-related deaths, and make our communities safer, an MP said yesterday.
In a speech to NHS healthcare professionals in Brighton yesterday evening, Green Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas supported the findings of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which earlier this month called for a major review of drugs policy.
Caroline said, “There is growing agreement across the scientific and political communities, in the police and the legal professions, that we need to move away from prohibition of use towards an evidence-based, public health approach to drug addiction.
“One of my top priorities as a local MP is to tackle Brighton and Hove’s very sad reputation as the drugs death capital of the UK.
“In order to do that, we need to recognise the reality that the so-called ‘war on drugs’ has failed – and start dealing with drugs differently.
“Here in this city, we understand more than most the consequences of a national drugs policy that has failed our citizens and our communities.
“Having seen the commitment locally to successful evidence-based treatment and support programmes, I think we are also well placed to start shaping an alternative approach – one that works.”
Caroline, who is an active member of Parliament’s All Party Group for Drug Policy Reform, is planning a high level roundtable in the city later this year, bringing together medical experts, and key local stakeholders, including the police and council representatives, to help develop an alternative approach.
Caroline believes that Brighton could set a positive example for other cities battling high levels of drug misuse by shaping a different approach which builds on successful initiatives that are already happening in the city, such as the highly successful RIOTT trial, which demonstrates that previously unresponsive patients can achieve major reductions in their use of street heroin.
In her calls for a potential decriminalisation of personal drug use and a health based approach to treatment, Caroline is joined by Brighton & Hove Chief Superintendent Graham Bartlett.
He commented, “My officers will continue to enforce the law as it stands. However, my personal view is that whilst production, supply and trafficking are and should remain crimes, the use of drugs is not well addressed through punitive measures.
“Providing people with treatment not only resolves their addiction – thereby minimising risk of overdose, drug related health issues, anti social behaviour and dependence on the state, for example – but cuts the cost to the community by reduced offending.”
Caroline added, “We have some excellent practice in the city in dealing with drug addiction, both from the third section, and from interventions like Operation Reduction, run by the local police.
“Over the coming months, I want to work closely with key agencies, healthcare professionals and community groups to explore ways for us to make a change for the better. I want to hear from local people about whether the city’s services are currently equipped to best reduce drug-related harms – and how they could be improved.
“One area I should like to explore is extending the provision of naloxone, used to counter the effects of heroin or morphine overdose, to all prisoners leaving prison with a history of addiction.
“Pilot programmes in Scotland and Wales are already showing positive results in terms of lives saved.”
She has also called for an urgent review of the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act, together with a cost benefit analysis to compare its effectiveness in reducing the societal, economic and health costs of drug misuse with an alternative approach based on treating drug addiction as a health issue, not a criminal one.
“In this age of austerity, when we are told that every penny of public spending must be justified, nobody is checking whether the war on drugs is value for money or money and effort wasted”, Lucas will say.
“I don’t think it will be easy.
“A new approach, based on treating drug addiction as a health issue not a criminal one, will represent a significant shift in thinking – and any changes should be brought in slowly and carefully.
“But in the long term, a more evidence-based drugs policy will help us to prevent crime, and protect our communities from the worst effects of drug abuse.”
For more information please contact the Brighton and Hove Green Party office on 01273 766 670.