The \u2018tough on drugs\u2019 approach is impractical, outdated and costly in every sense, according to a meeting of the APPG for Drug Policy Reform.\r\nConsidering pieces of evidence from home and abroad \u2013 including Germany, Portugal and the Czech Republic, where legislation had decriminalised drug consumption \u2013 the group discussed how the lack of a clear national strategy was resulting in inconsistent law enforcement relating to drug possession and consumption in the UK.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nA decade ago we were familiar with arrest referral schemes and their successor, the Drug Interventions Programme. This government-funded programme was used in courts and custody suites to divert people who had been arrested in possession of drugs into education and treatment programmes, rather than prison. With funding withdrawn, drug-related crime rates were rising as fewer offenders with drug problems were being referred into treatment.\r\n\r\nFurthermore, the group was concerned at the \u2018postcode lottery\u2019 playing out \u2013 in some areas people might receive a warning or a fine; in other areas they would receive a short prison sentence for the same offence. Those on the receiving end of harsher punishment, it was noted, were more likely to be from poor areas and minority ethnic groups.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nMike Trace, ex deputy drug czar to the Blair government, said that in the UK we used to be very enthusiastic about diverting people into treatment, but that this had declined over the last ten years. However, he believed the Ministry of Justice was now interested in diversion and deflection as it was cost effective.\r\n\r\nSome police and crime commissioners were running early stage deflection schemes, referring people into education and treatment programmes. Among them, chief inspector Jason Kew had become increasingly convinced of the value of this approach in the Thames Valley. \u2018We have had nothing but private engagement and support and acknowledgement that we need to reform,\u2019 he said. Pre-arrest diversion was \u2018as close to decriminalisation as you can get in the current framework\u2019, but it was a postcode lottery. Two miles down the road you could end up in custody.\r\n\r\n\u2018If we were using decriminalisation [a system like in Portugal] we wouldn\u2019t need to be talking about diversion,\u2019 he said, adding \u2018We are trying to evolve and innovate, but are also having to deal with the effects of austerity on drug services.\u2019\r\n\r\nDespite the constraints of the current legislative framework, there had been an opportunity to give evidence to the Home Office independent review of drug markets and violence, led by Dame Carol Black. The National Police Council were contributing, said Kew, and Kirstie Douse added that Release were submitting a full response.\r\n\r\nThe review would be looking at drug harms \u2013 an opportunity, the meeting agreed, to provide strong evidence on harm reduction that should pave the way for legalisation. Evidence would include detail and working practice \u2013 such as in Switzerland \u2013 on heroin assisted treatment (HAT) and drug consumption rooms (DCRs).\r\n\r\nWhile evidence was being collated and debated there was an urgent need to engage now with people about their drug use, as Fiona Measham explained.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nHer service, The Loop, had been bringing a mobile drug testing service to outdoor events, with a great deal of positive engagement \u2013 from local police as well as festival-goers. It\u2019s a model that has become a much-valued part of the festival scene \u2013 \u2018one in five people hand over their drugs when they find it\u2019s not what they expected,\u2019 she said.\r\n\r\nBut there was now a major obstacle to operating the service: the Home Office had announced they would be licensing mobile testing (previously \u2018a bit of a grey area\u2019, as there wasn\u2019t a licence that fitted a mobile lab situation). The application would take at least 12 weeks, meaning The Loop was \u2018on hold\u2019 until then.\r\n\r\n\u2018So the concern is, we\u2019re moving into the summer season and have had to cancel presence at imminent events,\u2019 said Measham. \u2018We\u2019re all in limbo waiting for the licence, but don\u2019t want to endanger the support of the Home Office long term.\u2019\r\n\r\nMembers of the APPG hoped there would be a way around this. \u2018We can\u2019t let bureaucracy make this a lost summer,\u2019 said Trace.\r\n***************\r\n\r\nBorder intelligence\r\nThe Drugs, Alcohol and Justice Cross-Party Parliamentary Group also met in May to discuss what England could learn from drug and alcohol strategies in Scotland and Wales.\r\n\u00a0A new strategy for Scotland, Rights, respect and recovery had the aspiration of putting recovery at its centre, said Andrew Horne, director of Addaction Scotland and an advisor to the Scottish government for the last 14 years.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nThere were now at least 120 organic self-starter recovery groups, which were \u2018about people taking back their own recovery and not led by services\u2019.\r\n\r\nScotland had 60,000 dependent drug users and a predicted 1,000+ drug-related deaths in 2018 \u2013 three times the rate in England. There had been recent rises in HIV and hepatitis C, in both the chemsex and mainstream using community. Horne mentioned the \u2018Glasgow effect\u2019 \u2013 the drop in life expectancy by seven years for residents, irrespective of their social group, age or ethnicity.\r\n\r\nThe news was that there had been a mind shift, said Horne. Scotland was now treating substance misuse as a health and social issue \u2013 a health issue first, rather than a criminal justice issue. \u2018People have the right to be safe and well,\u2019 he said.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nThere was a \u2018big need to address stigma\u2019 in personal and media references. \u2018Stigma stops people from entering treatment,\u2019 he said. Service users were still a very disempowered group that needed more advocacy to help challenge decisions about their treatment. Scotland still had health boards, \u2018which can be clinical and consumer led and seen to lack compassionate care\u2019, he explained, and it was important to listen to what peer-led groups had to say.\r\n\r\nDrug treatment in Wales was health led and there was an holistic approach, but it could get lost in the \u2018huge portfolio\u2019 of devolved responsibility, said Caroline Phipps, CEO of Barod, a third sector organisation for adults and young people.\r\n\r\nIt was an interesting time, she explained, as Wales was coming to the end of a ten-year strategy that had started to see a reduction in harms. The strategy review was showing evidence of short-term impact and the value of a harm reduction approach, but intelligence was missing on longer-term impact and whole-population intervention.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nOne of the main concerns was that those with the most complex needs were being failed, often because of stigma. \u2018We need to review concerns around OST, waiting times and access to services,\u2019 she said, as well as looking at some of the criticism being levelled at commissioners and services.\r\n\r\n\u2018People die of stigma \u2013 it\u2019s the biggest issue,\u2019 she said. Well-being of Wales gave a policy framework that needed to ensure service user voices were heard.\r\n\r\nAn ageing population, strong drugs, lack of funding and a spike in drug-related deaths gave the \u2018most challenging conditions of the last 20 years\u2019, underpinned by county lines, alcohol-related harms, hepatitis C rates, poverty and isolation.\r\n\r\nIn positive news, there was a ten per cent increase in funding for the sector in Wales, with a focus on harm reduction, protecting families and reducing drug-related deaths. There were good projects on distributing naloxone, said Phipps, as well as effective service user involvement and a pragmatic approach to patient choice. There was now a need to be \u2018brave and bold\u2019 with DCRs, diversion schemes and decriminalisation.