UK drug policy not based on evidence


The UKDPC called for Parliament “to revisit the level of penalties applied to all drug offences and particularly those concerned with production and supply”, but stopped short of calling for the decriminalisation or legalisation of most drugs.

The report, titled A Fresh Approach to Drugs, said:

We do not believe that there is sufficient evidence at the moment to support the case for removing criminal penalties for the major production or supply offences of most drugs.

But the commission said policy makers were failing to deal effectively with drugs – amid the rapid creation of new substances. The report added:

Seeing all drug use as invariably problematic can reduce the cost-effectiveness of policy. Just like with gambling or eating junk food, there are some moderately selfish or risky behaviours that free societies accept will occur and seek to limit to the least damaging manifestations, rather than to prevent entirely. Taking drugs does not always cause problems, but this is rarely acknowledged by policy makers.

Dame Ruth Runciman, the UKDPC chairwoman, said while Government programmes to reduce the damage caused by drug problems, like needle exchanges and investment in treatment for addicts, “much of the rest of drug policy does not have an adequate evidence base.”

She added:

We spend billions of pounds every year without being sure of what difference much of it makes.

A fellow commission member, the former chief executive of the Medical Research Council Professor Colin Blakemore, added:

Medicine has moved past the age when we treated disease on the basis of hunches and received wisdom. The overwhelming consensus now is that it is unethical, inefficient and dangerous to use untested and unvalidated methods of treatment and prevention. It is time that policy on illicit drug use starts taking evidence seriously as well.