MPs demand drugs decriminalisation in bid to tackle ‘public health emergency’
MPs have urged the Government to consider decriminalising the possession of drugs in an effort to halt a rise in deaths.
The Health and Social Care Committee said a radical approach was needed from ministers to stem the “public health emergency” - including an overhaul of the UK’s “failing” drugs policy.
They have urged the Government to should consider treating drug possession for personal use as a civil matter, rather than a criminal offence, while shifting responsibility for drugs policy from the Home Office to the Department of Health and Social Care.
The cross-party group is also calling on the Government to examine the Portuguese system, where a “dramatic” fall in drug death rates and HIV rates followed a policy of decriminalisation, improved treatment, harm reduction interventions, and better education.
The MPs said drug-related deaths had risen to their “highest ever levels” in Britain, with the largest number per million in Europe happening in Scotland.
They added that a “non-judgemental harm reduction approach” was needed, with consideration given to piloting Drug Consumption Rooms.
The group said funding must be boosted to ensure that services – including needle and syringe exchanges, and take-home naloxone, prescribed to prevent opioid overdoses – are accessible to all those who could benefit from them.
Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, Dr Sarah Wollaston, said: “A holistic approach centred on improving the health of and reducing the harm faced by drug users, as well as increasing the treatment available, must be a priority going forward.
“This approach would not only benefit those who are dependent on drugs but benefit their wider communities.
“We have focused on the evidence and call for the Department of Health and Social Care to take responsibility for drug policy going forward instead of the Home Office.
The Liberal Democrat MP added: “The Government should learn lessons from the international experience, including countries like Portugal and Frankfurt.
“It should consult on the decriminalisation of drug possession for personal use from a criminal offence to a civil matter. Decriminalisation alone would not be sufficient.
“There needs to be a radical upgrade in treatment and holistic care for those who are dependent on drugs and this should begin without delay.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: "The Government has no plans to decriminalise drug possession.
"The decriminalisation of drug possession in the UK would not eliminate the crime committed by the illicit trade, nor would it address the harms associated with drug dependence and the misery that this can cause to families and communities.”