Our drugs policy is not working. We must act now to save lives.
“Let’s be evidence driven.” I could not agree more.
While successive Government administrations have flip-flopped over drugs policy, shifting between the zero tolerance ‘war on drugs’ approach, through abstinence, declassification and even legalisation, what none have done is taken in to account the full wealth of evidence available.
So let’s start with some facts.
The Office for National Statistics has published the latest annual figures for the number of drugs related deaths. It is 4,359. That is the highest number, and the highest yearly increase since records began in 1993. For context, this is double the fatalities from road accidents.
There may be some who say that illicit drug use is a crime, that a zero tolerance approach must be taken, and that we should not tacitly condone this behaviour by offering services that protect drug users from fatally overdosing.
Rather than debate opinions, let’s once more go to the evidence.
The Government’s own Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) produced a report in 2016 on reducing the level of opioid-related deaths. One of their clearly stated nine recommendations is:
“Consideration is given – by the governments of each UK country and by local commissioners of drug treatment services – to the potential to reduce DRDs [drug related deaths] and other harms through the provision of medically-supervised drug consumption clinics in localities with a high concentration of injecting drug use.”
I was elected on my Police and Crime Plan, which contains an underpinning theme of protecting people from harm, especially the vulnerable. Unfortunately, drug users are at risk of severe harm, both medically and from the criminal gangs who control the drug trade.
Some might say that my support of the consideration of drug consumption rooms is normalising drug use. This says more about their views that it does my own, as I am simply following the recommendation as stated by the Government’s expert advisers, and a range of other academics.
However, what about the other opinions that such facilities might encourage addiction, drive up consumption or drug-related crime? Well, again the ACMD report states that:
“Such facilities have not been found to increase injecting, drug use or local crime rates.”
Furthermore, the European Monitoring Centre for Drug and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) position is also recognised by the Home Office, in that drug consumption rooms promote safe and hygienic drug use, reduce public nuisance, with no evidence of any increase in drug usage or frequency.
Their 2018 report contains a detailed overview of the peer-reviewed literature, and states:
“There is no evidence to suggest that the availability of safer injecting facilities increases drug use or frequency of injecting. These services facilitate rather than delay treatment entry and do not result in higher rates of local drug-related crime.”
Finally, and ironically, even though the Government turned down an application from Councillors in Glasgow for a drug consumption room, they accepted the research confirming their health benefits and how they would alleviate problems relating to public nuisance.
Drug consumption rooms, also known as overdose prevention sites, or similar, are well established in Europe, Australia and Canada. In fact, they have been operating elsewhere in Europe for the last three decades. Rigorous academic research shows that they provide medical supervision in a safe and controlled environment. Most importantly, there is unequivocal evidence to show a reduction in the number of drug related deaths, with no corresponding evidence of increased drug consumption.
Given the breadth of evidence, there are now several senior police officers, PCCs, MPs and public health experts who advocate the creation of a national network of such facilities, with the aim of stopping addicts from committing crime to feed their habit.
Therefore, if I may, I will continue to rely on peer-reviewed, Government accepted, academic findings rather than take the opinions of others.
I agree that the issue of drug consumption rooms must be addressed within the wider debate and framework around controlling the harm caused by drug taking. I furthermore acknowledge that, in an ideal world, neither PCCs, nor indeed policing as a whole, should be entering this debate.
However, I must deal with the reality. Our drugs policies are not working. I encourage naysayers to properly familiarise themselves with the evidence, and not be swayed by political opinion.
The time for lobbying is over. This is a public health crisis, and we must listen to the experts rather than political masses. I strongly advocate taking an evidence-based position, but I do so always, not just when it suits.
Therefore, I am unshakeable in my desire to pursue any effective, pragmatic and forward thinking way for Police and Crime Commissioners and Chief Constables to deploy their resources, skill and legal powers to tackle the scourge of drug related crime, whilst protecting vulnerable people who are at risk of harm.