In what is being seen as a landmark move, the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has issued a statement backing drug decriminalisation. After a meeting of its council the RCP has signalled its formal support for the Royal Society of Public Health’s Taking a new line on drugs report from two years ago (DDN, July/August 2016, page 4) and the ‘evidence-based recommendations’ it advocates.
Among the recommendations were for the personal possession of all illegal drugs to be decriminalised, and for a transfer of responsibility for drug policy from the Home Office to the Department of Health. ‘The RCP strongly supports the view that drug addiction must be considered a health issue first and foremost’ the statement reads, adding that the organisation had been ‘alarmed’ by the rising rates of drug-related deaths seen in recent years (DDN, September 2017, page 4), as well as increasing numbers of drug poisonings and hospital admissions with a primary or secondary diagnosis of drug-related mental and behavioural disorders (DDN, March, page 5).
The statistics ‘demonstrate a clear need for physical, psychological and social support and care for people addicted to drugs’, says RCP, adding that diminishing resources in the field were ‘of critical concern’. The royal college ‘seeks urgent action to prioritise and increase investment in public health services and workforce in order to meet rising population need’ it states. The RCP, which has a membership almost 35,000, is the most high profile medical body so far to back drug law reform.
‘We are delighted that the Royal College of Physicians has voted to endorse our position on drug policy reform,’ said RSPH chief executive Shirley Cramer. ‘That such an influential medical body has put its weight behind a public health and harm reduction approach to drugs, including the decriminalisation of personal possession and use, goes to show just how far the debate on this issue has moved forward – and how far behind the curve many politicians in the UK still are.’
There was now a growing consensus that ‘criminal justice approaches’ to drug harm had failed, she added. ‘It is critical that the health community speaks with a united voice on this issue in order to drive meaningful policy change, and so we hope other medical colleges will soon follow the lead of the RCP.’