Select Committee on Home Affairs Memoranda


Submitted by the National Drug Prevention Alliance (NDPA)


  The Alliance (NDPA) is a network of professional and lay groups and individuals who seek to improve the quality and application of primary prevention, set appropriately within the context of the whole range of drug services and wider social policy. Supporters between them cover the full range of professional disciplines.

  This submission has been purpose-written for the Select Committee. References and other substantiation will be supplied on demand. We are happy to attend to give oral evidence.


  The core value of the UK drug strategy is that drug misuse has a negative effect on the user, on those around him/her, and on society at large; it is therefore to be discouraged, whilst those who have become involved are encouraged and helped, with least harm, to cease. "Drug misuse" may conveniently be defined as:

    "Any use of an illegal substance, or the inappropriate use of any legal substance, for psychoactive effect."


1.  Does existing drugs policy work?

  1.1  Yes, as an adequate definition of goals and the means to achieve them. It suffers in the delivery, both by lack of commitment in some aspects as well as by assault from those who prefer a more libertarian approach. It seeks to engage all of the relevant community and government elements around a common purpose, but the delivery of it is ceded to local choice. Sectional interests which already have the ear of central/local government, or the media, or have more substantial assets, are in a better position to redouble their disproportionate influence and thus resourcing. Consequently those sectors without these advantages atrophy further—this particular disbenefits Strategy Key Goals one and two—to discourage use, and to enhance community safety.

2.  Effect of decriminalisation on (a) availability of and demand for drugs?

  2.1  It would increase it and encourage it to further increase, as evidence from other countries shows. Increased use has always followed law relaxation, provoking higher supply, thence lower cost thus higher use. This is particularly true for young people; some statistics have suggested that increase with older age groups may be less pronounced, but it is youth use which drives tomorrow's market—and incidentally it is the adolescent who suffers more physiological damage for any given drug.

3.  Effect on (b) drug-related deaths?

  3.1  These would also increase, under two headings: deaths due to drug chemistry, and circumstantial deaths. Drug chemistry may include toxicity leading directly to death, or biochemical effects of one drug loosening inhibitions against the use of another drug. Circumstantial deaths may include accidents to the person—at work or leisure—while uninhibited, or intoxicated, as well as various transport-related events (it is important to note that circumstantial deaths may occur to people other than the user).

  3.2  Progression in greater numbers to the so-called harder drugs will produce more deaths. Because the progression or `Gateway' theory is a key indictment of cannabis, vigorous attempts are made to nullify it. The evidence speaks for itself, and the paradigm can be reduced to one simple statement:

    Anyone who uses any substance for psychoactive effect is more likely to use another than is a non-user.

  3.3  The only reason that cannabis features so often is that it is by far the most-used illegal drug in our culture. Ecstasy is now proving to be the gateway drug of choice for another section of our society.

4.  Effect on (c) crime?

  4.1  Drug-related crime is too often monitored in a narrow and partial sense; acquisitive crime to pay for drug purchase is certainly part of the equation, but in our experience another large portion comes from disinhibition as well as alteration in mental attitude—becoming less socially conscious, more self-oriented, seeking rapid gratification. It follows that prevalence of crime is medicated by prevalence of drug misuse. In addition, certain drugs seems to predispose violent behaviour, exacerbating the above effect. Contrary to myth and dogma, research shows that enforcement works.

5.  Is decriminalisation desirable and, if not, what are the practical alternatives?

  5.1  It is not in any way desirable. Effects of misuse are already apparent in primary schools from foetal effects leading to disruptive behaviour, ADHD, aggressive outbursts etc; in the developmental years by academic failure; in the office, factory and worksite by accidents and reduced productivity; in our sports arenas by cheating, on our streets by crime and—not least—in the home by broken relationships, stress and illness. Some estimate the cost to society as £1.7 billion per year for illegal drugs, plus as much again for alcohol misuse—and these figures do not include social effects. Specialists over generations have defined total health as comprising physical, mental, intellectual, social, emotional, spiritual and environmental aspects—any assessment of the harm from drugs must take account of all these aspects, assessment based solely on physiological impact is woefully inadequate. Harm is not just to the user; not just physical, and not just in the extreme state which is addiction.

  5.2  The alternative to law relaxation is to do the job properly. Knowing the Strategy's core value (see `Background' above), gain an understanding of what real prevention is, where its benefits lie, then set about delivering it. Any behaviour, including drug misuse, is mediated by the culture of society in which it takes place. Society overall can be seen as a nest of cultures with a complex relationship between them—in other words, a social ecology. It is foolish to tinker with parts of this ecology—such as drug laws—it must be viewed and treated as a whole. At the Drug Strategy level, the following are needed:

    —  more and better prevention, community wide

    —  education that supports prevention

    —  a cautioning/warning system automatically linked to education and training

    —  clear laws which the majority of adults understand and endorse

    —  a constructive, rehabilitative justice system (drug courts, restorative justice, RAPT and similar, DTTOs)

    —  strengthened workplace initiatives

    —  strengthened sports prevention (less patriarchal)

    —  harm reduction confined to intervention and treatment—exclude from education

    —  more and better treatment, abstinence-oriented, minimise maintenance-prescribing; reintroduce sanity into `Human Rights' constraints on rehabs

    —  more training and control over use of pharmaceuticals

    —  review and strengthen drug information on an international evidence base

    —  assist the voluntary sector and break monopolies in services

6.  Effectiveness of ten-year strategy?

  6.1  Effectiveness is being undercut by ideology and `turf' disputes. Sort this and you will sort most of it. Adequate top-down compliance monitoring and management is a critical omission—rectify this; DATs/DRGs should comply with, not compete with the Strategy.

7.  Revised role of UKADC?

  7.1  A waste of potential. The post should be reinstated and strengthened (given teeth)—the most obvious powers would be influence over funding. (See ONDCP, USA).

8.  OAB: other issues needing attention

  8.1  Benzodiazepine abuse, over-the-counters, psychology/psychiatry over-reliance on drug chemicals, Ritalin and children, abuse of other pharmaceuticals.

  8.2  Strategies for legal and illegal drugs should link (but not merge).

September 2001

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