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16.06.16

Public health leaders call for legalisation of personal drug possession and use

Illegal drugs should be legal for personal possession and use in order to reduce the harm caused by drug addiction, the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) and Faculty of Public Health (FPH) said today.

In a new report, ‘Taking a new line on drugs’, the RSPH and FPH argue that current legal classifications of drugs make no sense.

Only one in 10 people say a drug’s class influences how likely they are to use it, and the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs ranks alcohol as the most harmful drug for UK society and the economy, above heroin, cocaine and methylamphetamine.

Shirley Cramer CBE, chief executive of the RSPH, said: “On many levels, in terms of the public’s health, the ‘war on drugs’ has failed.

“The time has come for a new approach, where we recognise that drug use is a health issue, not a criminal justice issue, and that those who misuse drugs are in need of treatment and support – not criminals in need of punishment.”

The RSPH and FPH’s proposed strategy is modelled on similar legislation which was introduced in Portugal in 2001.

As a result, deaths due to drug use fell from 80 in 2001 to 16 in 2012 and new cases of HIV among drug users fell from 1,061 to 56, social costs fell by 18%, and overall levels of drug use are now below the European average.

Professor John Middleton, president of the FPH, said: “Criminalisation and incarceration for minor, non-violent offences worsen problems linked to illicit drug use, such as social inequality, violence and infection. Possession and use should be decriminalised and health approaches prioritised.”

The RSPH and FPH also said that the Department of Health should take lead responsibility for the UK illegal drug use strategy and align it with existing alcohol and tobacco strategies.

It also recommended increasing the role of the wider public health workforce in supporting drug users in accessing treatment programmes, introducing mandatory evidence-based drug education in schools, and replacing the current ‘A, B, C’ classification with evidence-based harm profiles for drugs.

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