Home > Alternative ways forward for EU drugs policy.

Pike, Brigid (2012) Alternative ways forward for EU drugs policy. Drugnet Ireland , Issue 43, Autumn 2012 , pp. 8-9.

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Just as the European Council was agreeing the broad parameters of the EU’s next drugs strategy (see separate article in this issue), the UK’s House of Lords and the EU’s Civil Society Forum on Drugs (CSF) published their views on how the EU should tackle the drugs issue. Their conclusions differ from those of the European Council.

House of Lords1
The House of Lords EU Committee invited written and oral submissions on what had been achieved by the EU drugs strategy 2005–2012 and what should come next. The committee also collected evidence during visits to Brussels (Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship) and Lisbon (European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction). While acknowledging the value of an EU-level policy framework for illicit drugs in providing guidance to member states, the committee believes that the aims of demand reduction and supply reduction are ‘too broadbrush to be useful’. It recommends that the new strategy should concentrate on three areas where the EU can make a difference (p. 47):
 
1.       Coordination of the fight against drug trafficking – on the legislative front, the EU should focus more closely on money laundering and strengthen provisions on the seizure of the proceeds of crime, while on the operational and research fronts, efforts should continue to be supported. The committee concludes: ‘We believe that working on these fronts will be more productive than revising existing legislation on maximum penalties and newly developed psychoactive substances’ (p. 5).
 
2.       Information – the strategy should concentrate on the improvement of the collection, analysis, evaluation and distribution of information so that member states, while retaining the freedom to formulate their own policies, can learn from each other‘s experiences and benefit from each other’s research. 
 
3.       Public health orientation – impressed by the evidence of the effectiveness of Portugal’s public-health-orientated national drugs strategy, the committee recommends the strategy should cite the EU’s  public health obligations to encourage all member states to include harm reduction measures in their national policies. The committee concludes: ‘It should be recognised that health policy is as important as law enforcement policy in this field and that education also has an important role to play’ (p. 46).
 
In responding positively to the recommendations of the Committee, the British government emphasised that a public health orientation should focus not just on harm reduction measures but also on ‘sustained recovery’:2
 
We would view it as a missed opportunity were a new EU Drug Strategy to restrict its discussion of treatment to harm reduction measures alone. The UK in common with other Member States is keen for people to achieve sustained recovery from drug dependence, and a new EU Drug Strategy should contribute to that goal too. We recognise that each individual recovery journey will be unique and that for some individuals, medicinally-assisted recovery may be part of that journey.
 
Tackling drug dependence should remain a key strand of the EU Drugs Strategy as an important crime reduction, public health and wider public impact issue. It is only through getting individuals off drugs for good that a permanent change occurs which results in them ceasing offending, stopping harming themselves and their communities and successfully contributing to society.
 
Civil Society Forum on Drugs (CSF)3
Set up in 2007 by the European Commission and currently comprising 35 member organisations, the CSF serves as a platform for the informal exchange of views and information between the European Commission and civil society organisations in the EU. It represents a diverse group of European organisations (none from Ireland) that provide health and social services, advocate for more effective drug policies, and represent affected communities. Its proposals for the new strategy were produced following a one-year consultative process and represent a consensus position.
 
The document lists nine ‘general principles for drug policies’ and makes 16 recommendations for action related to these principles. Issues particularly highlighted by the CSF are respect for human rights, and targeting the needs of vulnerable groups, including those experiencing poverty, deprivation, social inequality, discrimination and stigma; children and young people; and problem drug users. It also promotes the ‘minimum quality standards’ for drug demand reduction programmes developed within the EQUS project.
 
General principles (and recommendations)
1.       Drug policies and practices must be balanced, integrated, evidence based and focused on public health. (Recommendation 5)
2.       Human rights must be fully respected in drug policies and practices and all drug control activities that are undertaken or promoted should be in line with human rights obligations including those under the relevant EU and UN Charters, including EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. (Recommendations 10 and 11)
3.       Drug policies should renew their focus and attention onto the needs of vulnerable groups. This includes but is not exclusive of people who use drugs, young people and children, as well as women, migrants and mobile populations, prisoners, sex workers, LGBT people exposed to environments where drug use occurs and members of social-economic vulnerable communities who may be disproportionately affected by drugs and drug policies. (Recommendations 4, 12 and 14)
4.       Drug policies should renew their focus on evidence based demand reduction approaches, including prevention, early intervention, treatment, harm reduction, rehabilitation and social reintegration. (Recommendation  5)
5.       There should be more coherence between drug policies and practices. This entails that drug policies should be fully implemented in practice, and practice should be routinely monitored and evaluated, with lessons learnt incorporated into policy as needed. (Recommendation 13)
6.       Drug policies should incorporate learning and sharing of knowledge and experience across local, national, EU and international levels in order to improve drug policies according to evolving practices and knowledge.
7.       More emphasis should be given to providing drug related services within the criminal justice system, including continuation of services and interventions during the post-release period. (Recommendations 6, 7,8 and 9)
8.       Drug policies should be developed and implemented at the EU level through improved coordination of all relevant stakeholders, including Member States, relevant Directorates-General, the European Parliament and civil society. (Recommendation 3)
9.       Evaluation should be considered as an essential element of effective drug policy. (Recommendation 15)
 
ENCOD (European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies), a member of the CSF, did not sign the document  because it considered the proposal should have included a reference to alternatives to prohibition. Seventeen NGOs supported a separate statement on the need to decriminalise the possession of drugs for personal use.4  
 
1. House of Lords European Union Committee (2012) The EU drugs strategy report. 26th report of session 2012–2012. HL Paper 270. London: The Stationery Office Ltd.
2. Henley, Lord, Minister of State for Crime Prevention and Anti-Social Behaviour Reduction (2012) EU drugs strategy: government response to each of the recommendations.  Letter and attachment containing the UK government’s response to the House of Lords Committee recommendations. London: Home Office.
3. Civil Society Forum on Drugs (April 2012) Proposal to the EU member states and the European Commission for inclusion in the new EU drugs strategy and action plan. Available at www.drugsandalcohol.ie/18220

4. Sarosi P (2012, 20 April) ‘Civil society demands involvement’. Item submitted by ‘sarosip’ to Drug Reporter, the drug policy website of the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union. Accessed 27 June 2012 at http://drogriporter.hu/en/csfd2012apr

Item Type:Article
Issue Title:Issue 43, Autumn 2012
Date:October 2012
Page Range:pp. 8-9
Publisher:Health Research Board
Volume:Issue 43, Autumn 2012
EndNote:View
Accession Number:HRB (Electronic Only)
Subjects:VA Geographic area > Europe
MP-MR Policy, planning, economics, work and social services > Policy > Policy on substance use

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