Sunday 25 February 2018

An evidence-based approach to tackling drug abuse

Addiction to dangerous psycho-active drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine, as well as the misuse of prescription medicines and so-called legal-highs, is a complex world-wide issue, which causes enormous suffering and plays a central role in a wide range of health, social, economic, security and law enforcement problems.  In the longrun, the hope must be that pharmacological solutions are found, but the present pace of progress suggests that, if indeed such a step is ever achievable, it is likely to take many years.

In the meantime, the Radical Party believes that Britain should follow a research-based approach, which starts from acknowledging that the current punishment philosophy is not working, understands that valuable lessons can be learnt from experience in other countries, and recognises the crucial link between social deprivation, and inappropriate correctional policies, and drug dependency and drug-related criminality. Unfortunately, experience makes clear that, at least in the present state of knowledge, there is no single silver bullet which will solve the problem of the drugs trade and drug abuse.

The main reason for this is that legal restraints on the use and sale of dangerous drugs have both negative and positive effects. On the negative side, they clearly fail in that they create an opening for criminality both in consuming and in producing countries.  But at the same time, on the positive side, they do appear to reduce consumption, both by pushng prices on the street and by stigmatising drug use, thus reducing the incidence of the horrific medical and psychological effects that addiction to drugs such heroin and crack cocaine has on addicts, their children and those about them. As a result, while some countries, notably the Netherlands, Portugal and Uruguay (together with some US states), have legalised the use of drugs such as cannabis, no country in the world has yet taken the step of de-criminalising the most addictive and dangerous substances.

In these circumstances, the Radical Party believes that the Government should act rapidly in areas where the evidence clearly suggests that progress can be made, while at the same time adopting an open-minded and step-by-step approach to learning from international experience with elements of de-prohibition.

Within this framework, the Party proposes that:

  • tackling social deprivation should be brought to the centre of strategy for tackling drug abuse;
  • there should be a major shift away from the use of incarceration in the punishment of offences involving the use and sale of illegal drugs;
  • the resources available for programmes that have been shown to be effective in helping victims to free themselves from addiction should be substantially increased;
  • the  Goverment should learn from, and where the evidence supports it adopt, experience from countries where governments have experimented with legalising the possession (and in some case, sale) of certain psycho-active substances which are currently illegal in the UK.