Select Committee on Home Affairs Memoranda


Submitted by ADFAM

  1.  This memorandum, which has been prepared specifically for the Committee, is from ADFAM, the UK charity for the friends and families of drug users.

  2.  ADFAM was registered as a charity in 1986 to represent and support the needs of families affected by drug use. ADFAM defines "family" and uses the term here as the people closest to those who use drugs. ADFAM has helped thousands of families address drug use, running a national telephone helpline (which currently receives 10,000 calls per annum), providing direct support in prison visitor centres in the London area and more indirect support, training and advice in prisons throughout the UK. In addition ADFAM has recently started a community consultation process across the country in order to map both the level of services currently available for families and the extent of unmet need.

  3.  As the Police Foundation Report "Drugs and the Law" highlights, the law is only one aspect of the entire drugs agenda of which harm reduction must form a large part. ADFAM's concern is that, whilst it broadly welcomes the debate on decriminalisation, this debate will serve to overshadow and detract from the need for coherent and successful policy development that reduces the harm caused by drug use in society—be they legal or illegal drugs.

  4.  You pose the question does existing drugs policy work? We would amend the question to ask whether it works for families. Drug use does not happen in a vacuum and for many of the families we talk to every day drug use can have long term consequences for family life. Recent work by Alex Copello at the University of Birmingham demonstrates a clear and damaging link between poor physical and mental health and the presence of disruptive drug use in families. We agree with the Government when it describes families as being "at the heart of society" (Supporting Families, HMSO 1998) but the implication of this is that current drug policy can not work effectively unless it also considers the family. Precious little mention of families is made in current drug policy.

  5.  ADFAM would argue that family members need to be considered as service users in their own right both to address the impact that drug use can have on family life but also to recognise the impact that effective family intervention can have on problem drug use.

  6.  As the "Drugs & Law" report indicates the impact of drug use is more important than simply the number of users and our work with families would support this view, not all drug use is necessarily problematic. When considering whether decriminalisation is desirable we would suggest that desirability needs also to be measured against the impact decriminalisation would have on families.

  7.  Current policy criminalises not only the user but those who are supporting the user and acting as agents for the reduction of harm being done by the use of drugs. Whilst the families we work for and with are not a homogenous group the work which we do with the families of imprisoned drug users demonstrates that the impact of imprisonment can have many more far-reaching consequences both for the drug user and the family than the drug use that may have led to imprisonment in the first instance.

  8.  In summary, therefore, we welcome the fact that the Home Affairs Committee is undertaking an inquiry into drugs policy and the current 10 year strategy. Our belief is that the focus of the inquiry should be on harm reduction not simply on drugs policy as a crime issue. However, what is clear from the work which we do is that for drugs policy to be truly effective it must also consider the family surrounding the user.

September 2001

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