Drug law experts have slammed the UK government’s new drug strategy as “business as usual” for making no attempt to adopt radical solutions to the country’s escalating rate of drug deaths.
Deaths from heroin and morphine overdoses have risen by over 200 per cent over the course of three years. 3,674 people died from illegal and legal drug taking across the UK in 2015, the highest number since records began 1993.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd revealed the government’s new drug policy plan yesterday, promising it would “protect the vulnerable – to prevent them falling into the cycle of drug abuse and to help them turn their lives around”, while targeting “unscrupulous drug dealers”.
Alongside a crackdown on dealers, features of the new strategy include an expansion of the Prevention Information Service and drugs and alcohol education, with recognition that the rise in drug related deaths “dramatic and tragic”.
Speaking to the Huffington Post UK, Niamh Eastwood, the executive director of drug law experts Release, condemned the strategy for not doing enough to address the problems facing the UK, particularly in regard to embracing harm reduction initiatives.
She said: “With drug-related deaths at an all-time high the government should be ashamed of this strategy. Recovery from drugs, defined as being drug free, is still at the core of the government’s approach, in our view this approach has contributed to people dying.
“If the government really wanted to save lives then this strategy was an opportunity to do so, they could have endorsed heroin prescribing, drug consumption rooms, pill testing, and other harm reduction interventions that protect health and communities.
Eastwood added she has seen the negative impact less treatment services have had on drug users.
“Through our work with people who use drugs we see the damage done by government policy every day. For the last seven years treatment quality has dwindled in many parts of the country, with services more focused on pushing people out of treatment due to national policy and local commissioning practices.
“Whilst the Government lacks the courage to support and invest in more innovative and pragmatic initiatives, we should not be surprised to see more people dying, and what is tragic is that these deaths could be prevented.”
The Huffington Post UK also spoke to Jason Reed, the executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) UK, who criticised the strategy for not going into enough detail on drug deaths.
He said: “Given the scale that we now face, many of us would expect any new strategy to be dominated by this fact.
“Our drug deaths have followed the global trend for countries that have a heavy reliance on law enforcement over health and treatment with our heroin deaths more than doubling from 2012 to 2015.”
He also called the strategy “a rather typical emphasis on reducing supply and demand, which we have tried and failed to do since the Misuse of Drugs Act was conceived”.
Martin Powell, Transform Drug Policy Foundation’s head of campaigns, is another expert who has condemned the strategy, labelling it as “the same failed old recipe of criminalisation and under-funding that has led to record numbers of vulnerable people dying”.
He added: “No wonder the government didn’t consult on this strategy. It dismisses out of hand or doesn’t even acknowledge the existence of measures proven to save lives and reduce crime – from decriminalising people who use drugs, to safer drug consumption rooms and heroin prescribing.
“This is despite such policies being recommended by the government’s own expert advisory body, who are thanked in the introduction.
“Prohibition is a discredited and deadly way to make drugs stronger and more dangerous, while funding organised crime and driving people away from help.
“To protect the young and vulnerable, we need to legally regulate drugs to steer people towards safer products, while fully funding drug services for all who need them.”