Select Committee on Home Affairs Memoranda


Submitted by DrugScope

  In submitting the following recommendations, DrugScope is basing its conclusions on the international research evidence base where available and on the effectiveness of drug policy and drug interventions. This evidence is summarised in attached appendices independently commissioned for the purposes of this memorandum and based on our experience gained as a leading drug charity for more than 30 years. Additionally we attach key findings from a survey of our members carried out specially for the purposes of informing your inquiry.

  There is much to commend in the current drug strategy and the various actions underway nationally and locally. In this memorandum we limit our comments to those areas where policy and the strategy should be strengthened and in particular, where the laws should be modernised.

  In an ideal world, we would hope that people, especially the young, would not take illegal drugs. We are however a long way from that position and our immediate concern is working to reduce the damage and harm that drugs can bring.

  One of the problems with the current position is that there is a misalignment in the relative harms of certain drugs and their classification. This raises the spectre of young people downplaying the potential risks and, consequently, increasing the dangers they are exposed to.


1.1.  Cannabis (and cannabinol) should be re-scheduled as a Class C drug.

  While cannabis is not a harm free drug, a contemporary risk assessment would suggest it is wrongly scheduled. Such a change is unlikely to have a disproportionate effect on crime or on health.1 (see Annexes B, C and D)

1.2.  There should be a thorough reassessment of the relative risks of all other schedule drugs with a view to re-scheduling some in other classes.

  While the long-term health risks of some drugs are still uncertain it is the view of drug misuse professionals that the risks of each drug still vary significantly. (see Annex F)

1.3.  Criminal procedures should no longer be initiated for the possession of small amounts of any scheduled drug nor for the cultivation of small amounts of cannabis.

  We understand our international obligations require the UK to prohibit specified drug use and punish and criminalise possession (and cultivation) but there is considerable room for manoeuvre as to the application of actions both within and outside the criminal law. (see Annex E) In particular there is no evidence that the availability of imprisonment deters simple possession or that it is effective longer term in stopping drug use. With renewed concern and provisions to ensure those who are drug dependent get access to treatment, it is appropriate that those with problems are not unduly criminalised (see Annex F). There are other measures (eg administrative and community penalties) that can be effectively utilised as alternatives (see Annexes C and E).

1.4.  Section 8 of the Misuse of Drugs Act should be reviewed and amended as appropriate to ensure that services and individuals helping vulnerable people and drug users do not fall within its purview.

  There is considerable disquiet that the recent hasty amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 was ill conceived and potentially damaging to those working with at-risk groups (see Annex F).

1.5.  The effectiveness and impact of Drug Abstinence Orders should be rigorously evaluated.

  It is our view that the requirement for someone with a potential drug problem to remain drug free without access to treatment is irresponsible. DTTOs and other sanctions offer adequate provision for drug dependent and other drug using offenders (see Annexes A and F).


2.1.  Revised performance targets should be adopted for the national strategy. These should reflect those set out in the current European Action Plan on Drugs.

  There is currently such poor information available that performance measurement is virtually meaningless in some cases and the strategy targets do not align with those of our European colleagues. More realistic and achievable targets are needed.2 (see Annex F)

2.2.  Local Drug Action Teams should be placed on a statutory footing and the relevant authorities should be required to draw up appropriate plans for addressing drug misuse.

  Ensuring commitment amongst government departments and local public services proves difficult against competing priorities.3 (and see Annex F)

2.3.  The Government should speedily introduce an alcohol strategy and back this up with appropriate resourcing.

  There is a risk that because many DATs and bodies like the National Treatment Agency embrace alcohol, resources devoted to addressing drug use (eg allocated through SR2000) will be diluted. (see Annex F).


3.1.  All statutory national and local public service plans that touch on young people's lives should include reference and objectives for addressing drug use.

  Drug use potentially touches every facet of a young-person's life and it is therefore essential that there is cross cutting effort so that every relevant public service responds in an appropriate way. (see Annex F).

3.2.  There should be substantially more effort put into helping vulnerable and at-risk children/young people, especially those looked-after and those excluded (or at risk of exclusion) from the education system.

  There is still some evidence that schools use exclusion for "minor" drug offences as a first response and that looked-after children remain particularly vulnerable to drug misuse.4

3.3.  There should be greater encouragement given to the adoption of supportive and effective workplace policies.

  Supportive programmes recognise the investment made in staff and their retention. Conversely, the US National Research Council has challenged the effectiveness of work-place drug testing in reducing drug use and the adoption of pre-employment recruitment and employee surveillance raises important ethical and social exclusion concerns.5

  * DrugScope is one of the UK's leading centres of expertise on drugs. Our aim is to inform policy development and reduce drug-related risk. We provide quality drug information, promote effective responses to drug taking, undertake research at local, national and international levels, advise on policy-making, encourage informed debate and provide a voice for our member organisations on the ground. DrugScope's 900 member bodies are drawn from health services, voluntary bodies, criminal justice agencies, researchers, academics and those involved in education and training.


4.1.  Harm reduction programmes to reduce health and social harms amongst drug misusers need to be substantially expanded.

  The UK has relatively high levels of injecting drug using, overdoses and levels of blood borne infections amongst drug users.6 (see also Annex F)


5.1.  There should be significant new investment and effort to make drug treatment services more responsive and sensitive to local needs.

  Drug use impacts on different communities in different ways. Treatment services need to be more culturally and gender sensitive to ensure ease of access. There also need to be new services targeted at particular types of users, such as those using stimulants. There is a universally recognised shortfall in the availability and breadth of such services. (see Annex F)

5.2.  Significant new resources, over and above those earmarked for the new National Treatment Agency, should be directed towards raising the quality and effectiveness of treatment services especially through enhanced training provision.

  Recent unpublished evidence from DrugScope suggests that local DATs, services commissioners and drug treatment services face considerable hurdles in striving to improve the quality of the services they provide.7 (see also Annex F)

5.3.  The funding of treatment services especially those provided through the voluntary sector should be put on a more substantial financial footing.

  The vagaries of funding these essential services result too often in energy and effort wasted in attempts to securing funding. (see Annex F)

5.4.  There should be a strategic examination of the potential for extending the prescribing of certain injectable drugs, including heroin.

  Many people fail to come off heroin and still use it even when prescribed substitutes. In Germany and in Switzerland there have been evaluated programmes that appear to offer some health improvement and crime reduction outcomes8. (See also Annex F)


6.1.  The gradual emergence of a two-tier treatment service (through the criminal justice system and health/social services) should not be allowed to develop.

  Greater support needs to be given to all treatment services to help them develop integrated health improvement, social re-integration and crime reduction objectives. (see Annexes A and F)

6.2.  Greater priority needs to be afforded to the social re-integration of drug users through more specialist and mainstream housing provision.

  While there are welcome new employment and training initiatives coming on stream, the availability of stable accommodation is one of the key factors in successful re-integration. Current provision for the growing numbers in and leaving treatment is not sufficient. (see Annexes A and F)

6.3.  Efforts to tackle drug use need fuller integration with those designed to reduce social exclusion and promote neighbourhood renewal.

  It is no coincidence that drug misuse and crime flourishes in areas of high social deprivation and amongst those excluded from the opportunities afforded to others.9


7.1.  The focus on intercepting Class "A" drugs should be maintained and its consequences fully evaluated.

  We support efforts that prioritise the drugs of most harm, although the full impact of this policy needs to be gauged.

7.2.  The proposed Asset Recovery Agency should be brought into operation at the earliest opportunity.

  Proceeds of drug related crime should not be available to serious and organised criminals for purposes of re-investment in other criminal activities. (see Annex F)

7.3.  More independent research should be carried out into drug trafficking and particularly the effectiveness of law enforcement interventions.

  Despite recent advances in methods and additional resources there is no independent analysis as to the overall effectiveness of such actions at the high, medium and low levels of drug markets. There may also be a case for the National Audit Office to examine this.

7.4.  In due course, the Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs Committees should carry out a joint inquiry into the effectiveness of international efforts to control drug production.

  There is growing disquiet in many quarters as to the long term economic, social, environmental and political consequences of international drug control policy and trafficking upon developing nations.


8.1.  A national risk assessment should be undertaken into the vulnerability of selected sectors of the UK economy prone to money laundering.

  Drugs money laundering through the UK risks the integrity and reputation of professions and financial institutions.

  At the heart of how we respond to drugs lie our drug laws and underpinning these are the international drug conventions. While we see little immediate prospect of change, we support calls for a review of these in the light of contemporary knowledge about their domestic and international impact.

September 2001


  1  Report of the expert group on the effects of cannabis use

  Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs

  Home Office London 1982


  Reuter, MacCoun

  Evaluating alternative cannabis regimes

  Brit J of Psychiatry (2001) 178, 123-128

  2  European Union Action Plan on Drugs for 2000-04.

  9283/00CORDROGUE 32

    The six objectives/targets in this EU plan are:

    —  "to reduce significantly over five years the prevalence of drug use, as well as new recruitment to it, particularly among young people under 18 years of age"

    —  "to reduce substantially over five years the incidence of drug-related health damage (HIV, hepatitis, TBC, etc) and the number of drug-related deaths"

    —  "to increase substantially the number of successfully treated addicts"

    —  "to reduce substantially over five years the availability of illicit drugs"

    —  "to reduce substantially over five years the number of drug-related crimes"

    —  "to reduce substantially over five years money-laundering and illicit trafficking of precursors"

  3  Duke K., MacGregor S.

  Tackling Drugs Locally: the implementation of drug action teams in England

  Social Policy Research Centre, Middlesex University 1997

  4  Kenny, Cockburn

  The Management of Drug-Related Incidents in Schools

  unpublished SCODA report 1998


  Dr Sean Neill

  Warwick University Institute of Education.

  a survey for the National Union of Teachers

  5  Normand, Lempert, O'Brien (eds)

  Under the influence—drugs and the American work force

  Academy of Science Washington DC 1994

  6  Reducing Drug-Related Deaths—A report by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs

  London The Stationery Office 2000

  7  Unpublished report of consultancy support to DATs on implementing Quality Standards for Drug Treatment Services

  DrugScope 2001

  8  Uchtenhagen A., Dobler-Mikola A., Steffen T., Gutzwiller F., Blattler R.,

  Pfeifer S. eds.

  Prescription of Narcotics for Heroin Addicts: Main Results Of The Swiss National Cohort Study.

  Basel, etc: Karger, 1999.

  viii, 134p

White R.

  Dexamphetamine Substitution In The Treatment Of

  Amphetamine Abuse: An Initial Investigation.

  Addiction: 2000, p.229-238. 20 refs.

Fleming P.M.

  Prescription Amphetamine To Amphetamine Users As

  A Hard Reduction Measure.

  Int J Drug Policy: 1998, 9(5), p.339-344. 28 refs.

  9  Drug Misuse and the Environment: a report by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.

  London HMSO 1998

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