12th March issue

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There’s a lot to read in the RSA Drugs Commission’s new report – probably what you would expect from a two-year study involving representatives whose different jobs touch the drugs field, from public health to criminal justice.

 The recommendations mirror much cross-sector lobbying – for a strategy that addresses all areas of life, home and work, instead of pointing straight to jail – and asks government to acknowledge that current drugs strategy is failing.

 It’s a big ask. As far as the Home Office is concerned, a criminal justice led strategy is filling treatment places and helping citizens sleep more soundly at night. There’s a big tick against DIP, and testing on arrest is being credited with bringing more people into contact with drug workers.

The Commission is asking government not only to lead the way in stopping the ‘demonisation’ of drug users; it’s asking them to pass the lead for drug strategy from the Home Office to the Department for Communities and Local Government, so local areas, led by their drug action teams, can work out what’s best for their own communities.

Stepping back from the detail, the Commission is suggesting a massive fundamental shift in attitude. It asks government and society to stop chasing the impossible dream of a drugless society, and to look at where support is most needed. Taking the hysteria out of the drugs debate is our only chance of basing strategy on actual harms, it suggests. We could start looking at alcohol, tobacco, solvents and prescription drugs, alongside drugs that are currently illegal.

Turning the tables, we could consider consumption rooms and prescribed heroin as a regular option. The report, boldly entitled ‘Facing facts’, has been released in time for the government’s much anticipated drug strategy review next year. We look forward to seeing which ideas hit home.

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