Select Committee on Home Affairs Memoranda


Submitted by Quaker Action on Alcohol and Drugs (QAAD)


  Quaker Action on Alcohol and Drugs (QAAD) is a listed group of the Religious Society of Friends and an independent national charity concerned with the use and misuse of legal and illegal drugs. We offer some prevention and information services regarding substance use within the Society of Friends, and some grant aid outside it. Trustees give their time to QAAD freely, and bring voluntary and statutory experience from settings that include prevention, treatment, the medical profession, and criminal justice.


  1.  QAAD welcomes this inquiry and compiled this document specifically for it. We commend the current policy initiatives that tackle the causes of problem drug use by addressing poverty and disadvantage.


  2.1  QAAD believes that existing drug policy does not reflect current information about the harms caused by drugs available in our society. Specifically:

    —  Alcohol and nicotine are not evaluated in the same framework of harm as that applied to illicit drugs, whilst social policies and regulatory measures that could reduce problem use (price, availability and advertising controls) are inconsistently or insufficiently applied.

    —  The existing classification of cannabis is not working legally or socially.

    —  These anomalies weaken the authority and effectiveness of current drug policies, particularly in the eyes of young people.

  2.2  We accept that change must begin with realism from the existing legal and social position. However, longer-term progress will be most effectively achieved by the development of a rational, integrated strategy that includes all drugs, legal, illegal and prescribed. An evidence-based framework related to the various harms of drugs should be applied both to social policy and to health/education messages in a consistent and mutually reinforcing way.

  2.3  A necessary step to achieve this is the speedy delivery of the long-awaited alcohol strategy. As regards illicit drugs, we endorse the recommendations regarding classification and implementation made by the Police Foundation Report of March 2000, and we also support its general reasoning. We welcome experimental police initiatives for dealing with cannabis.

  2.4  The PFI acknowledged, "there is a risk that ...changes...may lead to the use of cannabis by more people..." We believe that the risk must be related to the "prevention paradox"—the phenomenon noted by researchers, that levels of problem use rise when general consumption increases. We recommend that any changes involving relaxation are accompanied by active health/education strategies, and that changes in use and problem use is stringently researched.

  2.5  We echo concerns that to leave the supply chain in illicit hands makes market separation of cannabis from more harmful drugs harder to achieve. We do not advocate further changes than those proposed by the PFI report at this stage. However, if further decriminalisation is considered, we recommend that the concept of "unstimulated demand", as embodied in the 1968 Betting and Gaming Act, be examined as a paradigm. This principle provides a framework for controlling expansion, and for limiting the commercial pressures that undermine health objectives. It can usefully be applied to those drugs that are already legal.

  2.6  We recommend that a Royal Commission be convened to examine the complex questions involved in models of decriminalisation, and the broader issues of the status and regulation of all drugs. We also recommend closer co-operation with other European countries where changes to drug laws are occurring.

  2.7  We have particular concern that attempts to curtail the production of heroin and cocaine have resulted in policies that involve force, coercion, or the indiscriminate use of toxic chemicals in countries already disadvantaged by poverty. The market for illicit drugs and tobacco is caused mainly through the power of western countries over trade, and through the nature of our culture. The developing world benefits least and suffers the harshest consequences. We recommend a "joined-up" foreign and domestic policy based on just measures more likely to reduce drug production in the long-term. Fair trading agreements and non-exploitative prices for the food products of developing countries should be the basis for progress. We are encouraged that the Prime Minister spoke to this effect at the Labour Party conference: of "encouraging investment... and access to our markets so that we practise the free trade we are so fond of preaching." We look forward to practical initiatives.


  3.1  QAAD welcomes the increased availability of treatment for offenders and the harm-reduction benefits. We also observe

    —  Drug Treatment and Testing Orders have been implemented variably according to local conditions. This has some positive effects, but it also tends to perpetuate pre-existing variations in quality and availability of treatment.

    —  Guidelines from the pilot DTTO research recommended a flexible attitude to some continuation in drug use, since reduction results in harm-minimisation benefits. However, drug use may continue throughout the Order, and informal information suggests DTTOs can end whilst treatment is still necessary. Research demonstrates that abstinence from heroin via methadone-based treatment is neither usual nor quick. These difficult findings have been insufficiently incorporated into planning or policy expectation. (They provide an argument for greater availability of residential provision, though this will not be a total solution).

    —  Within the target DTTO population, there is a group of high-risk, high-needs offenders, with multiple social problems: some have dual diagnosis. Research indicates that these people benefit most from intensive and prolonged treatment, and support for community reintegration. However, specialist facilities are rare, residential provision is insufficient, as is good-quality supported housing. Neither mainstream provision nor DTTOs reliably meet the specific needs of this group.

    —  Proposed drug testing of arrestees raise concerns about civil liberties and equality, particularly with regard to race. There is also a risk that the "hard-to-treat", group of offenders (identified by the National Treatment Outcome Results Survey and probably including the group just delineated) will enter a revolving door of arrest, coerced testing/treatment, and prison.

  3.2  We support measures for the treatment of offenders, but we have some concern that the crime agenda is having too strong an impact in terms of policy and resources. Where services are stretched, this is an acute issue.

  3.3  QAAD fully acknowledges that national drug policy must address the crime and public health risks that can result from drug use. However, the health and well-being of drug users—rather than simply the problems their behaviour causes to others—should also be a prime focus. As Quakers, we are concerned with the welfare of every person. Working from this value is our principle, but it also has benefits for outcomes: research demonstrates that empathic and responsive services are most effective.

September 2001

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