Drugs policy Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

The scale of the problem

1.There is a clear need for evidence-led policy on drugs. We urge the Government and other policy makers not to shy away from the lessons from Portugal and Frankfurt, but to take a harm reduction approach and implement the recommendations set out in this report without delay. (Paragraph 10)

Putting health first

2.Holistic, non-judgemental harm reduction approaches are needed which facilitate access to services. Following budget cuts of nearly 30% over the past three years, the Government must now direct significant investment into drug treatment services as a matter of urgency. This investment should be accompanied by centrally co-ordinated clinical audit to ensure that guidelines are being followed in the best interests of vulnerable patients. (Paragraph 24)

3.Sufficient funding should be made available to ensure that HAT, Naloxone, and needle and syringe exchanges are accessible to all those who could benefit from them. We also support the introduction of on-site drug checking services at festivals and in night time economies. Drug Consumption Rooms should be introduced on a pilot basis in areas of high need, accompanied by robust evaluation of their outcomes. If changes to current legislation are required to facilitate the piloting of DCRs, they should be made at the earliest opportunity and the Government must set out where the barriers exist to these evidence-based approaches being taken forward. (Paragraph 37)

4.We recommend that the Government conduct a review of the commissioning of drug treatment services to consider how they should be strengthened to enable them to co-ordinate and deliver the much-needed improvements to drug treatment services as effectively as possible. The review should consider whether improvements should be made to the current localised model, or whether, alternatively, a national agency to oversee commissioning should be established, to provide and ensure adherence to a minimum set of national standards. The review should also explicitly consider and address the clear and present crisis in the drug treatment workforce. (Paragraph 48)

A comprehensive response to drugs

5.The first priority in developing a comprehensive response to drugs must be to improve existing drug treatment services, and extend and develop harm reduction initiatives. The Government needs to develop and fund a comprehensive package of education, prevention and support measures focused on prevention of drug use amongst young people. A comprehensive response should also include a focus on improving the life chances of people who are recovering from drug use. To do this, the Government should actively consider the re-establishment of a central drugs policy agency, drawing on lessons from both the Drug Treatment Agency and the Portuguese experience of SICAD (the central Directorate-General for Intervention on Addictive Behaviours and Dependencies). As well as funding and directing drug treatment services, it could play an important role in co-ordinating the multiple strands of drug policy, including policing, social care, education, housing and employment, and developing a truly joined-up, cross Governmental approach to drugs. (Paragraph 57)

6.Efforts to improve the unacceptably high rates of drug-related deaths would be strengthened by explicitly reframing drug use as a health rather than a criminal justice issue. Much of our evidence recommended that policy responsibility for drugs should move from the Home Office to the Department of Health and Social Care, and we strongly recommend this move. A health focused and harm reduction approach would not only benefit those who are using drugs but reduce harm to and the costs for their wider communities. (Paragraph 68)

7.We support consultation on decriminalisation of drug possession for personal use, by changing it from a criminal offence to a civil matter. We recommend that the Government should look closely at how decriminalisation has been underpinned by a strong system of monitoring and referral for those who use illegal drugs through the Dissuasion Committees in Portugal, as well as the experience of police diversion schemes in England. Decriminalisation must only be introduced as one part of a full, comprehensive approach to drugs, the central plank of which is improving treatment and harm reduction services, underpinned by better education, prevention and social support. Any reforms should also be supported by rigorous evaluation which gathers longitudinal data on defined outcome measures. (Paragraph 69)

Published: 23 October 2019