UK Drugs Strategy – July 2017 – Same old, same old?

This past week the UK Government released a Drugs Strategy. Here is some of the reaction to the document, which is available here.

Media Roundup.

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From The Independent:

 

The Government’s latest policy relaunch aimed at tackling illegal drugs amid soaring death rates has been heavily criticised by campaigners who say it fails to get to grips with the problem.

The UK Drug Strategy 2017 was announced by the Home Office as its flagship initiative to reduce use of illicit substances and improve addiction recovery rates.

Drug misuse has been falling in recent years, figures show. Some 2.7 million 16- to 59-year-olds in England and Wales took illegal drugs in 2015-16, down from 10.5 per cent a decade ago.

However, the latest available figures also reveal deaths are soaring. Some 3,674 drug poisoning deaths involving legal and illegal substances were recorded in 2015, up from 3,346 in 2014 and the most since comparable records began in 1993. Cocaine deaths reached an all-time high in 2015, and deaths involving heroin and/or morphine doubled over three years to reach record levels.

The new Home Office strategy identifies new emergent threats, including drugs previously known as legal highs such as Spice – the drug blamed for causing a “zombie plague” in city centres, which is now causing havoc in the prison system.

Chemsex drugs like crystal meth, GHB/GBL and mephedrone, which are taken before or during sex to boost the experience, are also identified as a growing problem among users who expose themselves to blood-borne infections and viruses, according to the strategy.

It promises “targeted interventions” and close collaboration between sexual health services and other relevant groups, as well as more help for addicts to find houses and jobs and better controls at borders.

However, it immediately came under fire from people and organisations campaigning to reduce the harm caused by drugs.

Some argued that by refusing to countenance any sort of decriminalisation it could never make any serious dent in a trade controlled by organised criminals at an estimated cost to society of £10.7bn a year.

Models in countries such as Portugal were cited, where decriminalising drugs and treating their use as a health issue has reduced consumption, addiction and funding for criminals.

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From the Daily Mail:

The Government has ‘no intention’ of making cannabis legal in the UK, officials have announced in a new blitz on drugs.

Despite a growing body of evidence showing the world’s favourite recreational drug to be safe, possession will remain punishable with jail.

Experts have slammed the Home Office’s controversial decision, describing it as a ‘missed opportunity’ to legalise the herb.

But ministers pointed to various studies that have shown cannabis to be detrimental to human health, with significant links to schizophrenia.

Such worrying associations have existed for decades, and were responsible the decision to reclassify the drug to a Class B nine years ago.

In recent years, Spain, South Africa, Uruguay and several states in the US have made cannabis legal for recreational use.

Pressure has been increasing on the UK to follow suit and update its drug policy, with many citing weed’s medicinal properties.

But Ian Hamilton, a drug researcher based at York University, told MailOnline the UK’s updated stance shows it’s falling behind.

‘Missed opportunity’ 

He said: ‘The government has missed an opportunity to provide less harmful ways of people accessing and using cannabis.

‘The UK is falling behind many other countries who are adopting progressive policies towards drug use.

‘These countries have embraced the evidence and recognise that punishing people who use drugs does not improve their health and adds to social inequality.’

Cannabis is currently a Class B drug in the UK, and anyone found in possession can face up to five years in prison.

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From The Guardian:

The wait is finally over for those of us working in the drug policy and drug treatment sectors. The Home Office published its new drug strategy on Friday, two years after its planned deadline in 2015. Sadly, however, this is not a case of good things coming to those who wait. For a 50-page document, there’s very little in the new strategy that can earn it its name.

Against a backdrop of increasing policy innovation in the wider world, the main aims of this strategy are largely unchanged from the previous 2010 version. There’s still a focus on recovery, rather than harm reduction. A continued commitment to tackling the problems caused by drugs through the criminal justice system, rather than through the health system. A point blank refusal to consider decriminalisation, or any reforms to the Misuse of Drugs Act.

Worse, what good initiatives there are in the strategy – and there are some – seem to have been dreamed up by minds unfettered by the reality of public health, criminal justice and policing systems squeezed to breaking point.

Andy Burnham, giving the keynote address at a conference in Manchester last week aimed at developing a more connected response to the city’s rising spice epidemic, echoed the thoughts of many in these fields: “Where is the money? Our frontline services are being overwhelmed. I didn’t hear any mention of any extra funding in the radio this morning. It seems quite hollow, what was being said.”

First then, for the good news. Greater efforts are going to be made to provide effective, evidence-based drug prevention and education to young people. Gone are the school visits from the trite ex-user or the finger-wagging police officer: effective resilience training is in.

Prisoners, too, are to be given more help into recovery, their progress monitored closely. Far clearer and more explicit guidelines have been given on the value of opioid maintenance treatments, which allow so many people with opioid dependence to live their lives, and crucially, prevent overdoses.

The people who slip through the cracks of dual diagnosis from mental health and problem substance use are to be better catered for, rather than shunted between services reluctant to take on complex and demanding cases.

Of the rather pedestrian reforms, these are the brightest spots. However, with cuts to local authority public health budgets totalling £85m this year, and ringfenced drug treatment budgets expected to be cut by £22m, it’s anyone’s guess as to where the money will come from for such initiatives. More likely that these reductions will further eat into essential services such as needle exchanges, and hamper local authorities’ ability to properly assess the performance of the services they commission.

(Read the whole article using the link above)

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From The Huffington Post:

The Government’s new drugs strategy has been condemned as “business for usual” for failing to embrace radical solutions to soaring drug deaths.

The Home Office announced its long-awaited strategy that pledges to crack down on drug dealers and cut demand by expanding education on drugs and alcohol and expanding the Prevention Information Service.

Writing on HuffPost UK, Home Secretary Amber Rudd said the plan would target “unscrupulous drug dealers” while trying to do more to “protect the vulnerable – to prevent them falling into the cycle of drug abuse and to help them turn their lives around”.

While the new strategy does call a rise in drug deaths “dramatic and tragic”, it was condemned as “business as usual” by one advocate for change.

Niamh Eastwood, executive director of drug law experts Release, told HuffPost UK the strategy should have mooted ending criminal punishment for possession, following the lead of other countries.

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If you have other stories and media accounts that you think should be added, get in touch.

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