Home > Civil society calls for new directions for UK drug policy.

Pike, Brigid (2007) Civil society calls for new directions for UK drug policy. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 23, Autumn 2007, p. 6.

PDF (Drugnet Ireland, issue 23) - Published Version

2008 will see the expiry not only of Ireland’s national drugs strategy but also of the United Kingdom’s (UK) drugs strategy and the United Nations’ (UN) 10-year action plan on drugs. Debate around the future direction of UN drug policy was described in the last issue of Drugnet Ireland.1 This article describes recent contributions to the debate about UK drug policy. Three separate new entities have been formed within the civil society sector to kick-start this debate. 

In April 2007 the United Kingdom Drug Policy Commission (UKDPC) was launched with the release of a 108-page monograph on UK drug policy.2 Reviewing the available evidence, the authors outline the nature of Britain’s drug problem, the population pattern of use of various illicit drugs, how these patterns have changed over time, and the associated harms (including death, health problems, and crime). Against this background, they analyse the impact of current policies in the areas of enforcement, prevention, treatment and harm reduction. They conclude:  

Government policies have only limited impact on rates of drug use itself. However, policies are highly relevant because they can have significant impact on the levels of drug-related harm. …[the government] could make better use of available evidence to choose policies that more effectively reduce drug-related death, crime, physical and mental health problems and other harms to the communities that currently suffer the consequences of drug use. (pp. 82–3) 

The authors call for further research on the consequences of drug enforcement efforts, and for the strengthening of the Drug Harm Index,3 and more transparent drug budgeting, all of which will lead to a greater capacity to measure what is currently being spent. 

In May 2007 the Drugs and Health Alliance (DHA), a new alliance of drug charities, was launched.4 The DHA calls on the UK government to put public health, harm reduction and tackling poverty and exclusion at the heart of UK drug policy. Specifically, it calls on the government to:

·         prioritise public health goals;

·         implement a truly cross-departmental, public-health-led strategy and place the lead role in the relevant health agencies;

·         commission an independent audit of outcomes against expenditure, comparing public health with criminal justice approaches;

·         hold an official cross-departmental consultation on the efficacy of criminal justice and public health approaches; and

·         reallocate drug strategy expenditure from criminal justice to public health. 

The DHA was launched at the RSA (Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures & Commerce) on 3 May 2007. Two months previously, the RSA Drug Commission on Illegal Drugs, Communities and Public Policy published its 300-page report on illegal drugs, communities and public policy.5 The RSA Drug Commission did not conduct research or hold public hearings but it made extensive use of the existing literature, consulted widely and took advice from a range of experts in the drugs field. Among its many observations and recommendations were the following:

·         Illegal drugs, alcohol, tobacco and other psychoactive substances should all be brought within a single regulatory framework, one capable of treating substances according to the amount of harm they cause.

·         The success of drugs policy should be measured not in terms of the amount of drugs seized or the number of dealers imprisoned but in terms of the amount of harms reduced. The fight against illegal drugs should not stop, but it should be refocused so that it concentrates on organised criminal networks.

·         Drug treatment should be set in a public health framework that includes both clinical treatment and ‘wrap-around’ services such as housing and employment. There should be easier access to treatment through primary care, and GPs should not be allowed to opt out of providing drug treatment.

·          The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, now over 30 years old, should be repealed and replaced by a comprehensive Misuse of Substances Act.


1.  Pike B (2007) Civil society joins international debate on drug controls. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 22, p. 3.

2. Reuter P and Stevens A (2007) An analysis of UK drug policy. A monograph prepared for the UK Drug Policy Commission. London: UDPC. The UKDPC was established to provide independent and objective analysis of drug policy and find ways to help the public and policy makers better understand the implications and options for future policy. Composed of a group of independent experts, the UKDPC is chaired by Dame Ruth Runciman.

3. MacDonald Z, Tinsley L, Collingwood J, Jamieson P and Pudney S (2005) Measuring the harm from illegal drugs using the Drug Harm Index. Home Office Online Report 24/05. London: Home Office.

4.   The charities forming the DHA include the Beckley Foundation, the International Harm Reduction Association, the Kaleidoscope Project, Release, Transform Drug Policy Foundation and the UK Harm Reduction Alliance.

5. RSA Commission on Illegal Drugs (2007) Drugs – facing facts. The report of the RSA Commission on Illegal Drugs,Communities and Public Policy. London: RSA Commission on Illegal Drugs. Retrieved 25 July 2007 from http://www.thersa.org/.  The Commission was appointed in January 2005 as an independent body under the auspices of the RSA. Its members were drawn from various fields and disciplines in the drugs area, and also from business, local government, health and social services, parliament, the professions and academia.

Item Type
Publication Type
International, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Substances (not alcohol/tobacco)
Intervention Type
Issue Title
Issue 23, Autumn 2007
July 2007
Page Range
p. 6
Health Research Board
Issue 23, Autumn 2007

Repository Staff Only: item control page