Psychoactive Substances Bill

Written Evidence submitted by Mr John Martin BA MSc, Substance Misuse Project Worker, Fife, Scotland (PSB 05)

 

Psychoactive Substances Bill

 

I have worked as a practitioner for many years within substance misuse and young people’s services. I have a particular interest in this Bill as a result of my biography, the Bill’s controversy and its ability to effectively reduce harms associated with NPS.

Firstly, regarding the main definition within the Bill:

2.2 …Substances can have a psychoactive effect being neither stimulant nor depressant (of the CNS ). The legal definition should either remove these two categories or in clude others ………………………………………………………………………………………

………………………………………………………………………………………………

e.g . it could read "any substance which is capable of producing a psychoactive effect in a

person who consumes it, and is not an e xempted substance …A substance produces a psychoactive effect in a person if it affects the person’s mental functioning or emotional state…A person consumes a substance if the person causes or allows the substance, or

fumes given off by the substance, to enter the person’s body in any way. "

‘Excluded substances’

The annexed list of exclusions will need to be actively managed as more and more substances are identified that need to be excluded . How will this be done I wonder; what are the mechanisms/process for this and how do we ensure that we do not criminalise for supply beyond the intent of the Bill rather than the ‘letter of the law’ that will extrude?

A robust and timely mechanism/method will need to be in place and actively managed. Who will do this? What criteria will be used to assess inclusion in the exclusion list? Will this be related to harm? If so, why are Tobacco and Alcohol already (intently) excluded? Last year around 160,000 (depending upon what exactly is counted) people in the UK died prematurely as a result of the long term harms from Alcohol and Tobacco. Meanwhile mortalities rates related to NPS are relatively infinitesimally small.

Impact

Despite the controversy surrounding this Bill and its obvious inherent flaws, lack of clarity and contradictions, I believe that it nevertheless has the potential to dramatically reduce availability for large numbers of young people. In the short term, it will dramatically limit access for young people who would not consider supply routes other than retail outlets. This has to be welcomed and will, I believe, see large reductions in the numbers of young people presenting to A & E departments suffering the (often ‘novice-related’) adverse effects of these substances.

Other comments

Many others have succinctly commented, more than adequately I believe, on the fundamental weaknesses of this approach and of the Bill itself. I will not add my own summation here.

I believe that the greatest failing of this Bill and its progress through The Lords and Parliament to date, is that it is not evidence based. It takes no account of the overwhelming evidence that drugs policy should be related to harms or the ‘unintended consequences’ evidenced in Ireland . Nor has the process taken sufficient cognisance of the views of the ACMD (and others) who are, without argument, a real wealth of expertise in these matters.

As far as I can see there has been no meaningful, evidence based, impact assessment and we are therefore effectively be conducting a well-meaning, fundamentally flawed, social experiment once we pass this Bill. It will, despite this, very likely have a short term positive impact regarding the availability of these substances to young people. This facet I wholeheartedly welcome.

October 2015

Prepared 27th October 2015