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Doctors make themselves heard in the drug policy debate


in Harm reduction,Policy

The British Medical Association, a professional association and registered trade union for doctors, has published a comprehensive report on drug policy in the UK making clear the role they feel medical practitioners should play, not only in improving care of problem drug users, but also in becoming involved in the political debate over drug policy.

(Amanda Feilding, Director of the Beckley Foundation, was a member of the Board of Science Reference Group for the Report, and our research is referenced in the report).

Professor Averil Mansfield, Chairman of the BMA Board of Science, says that the BMA is concerned about this criminalisation of those with a medical condition, and would like to see healthcare become more central to drug policy. Advocates of drug policy reform have always promoted the idea that drug abuse isn’t a criminal issue but a medical one, requiring those trapped in the cycle of abuse to be viewed first and foremost as patients.

The report does not state support for any particular perspective, but is clear in its criticism of prohibition as having a “shortage of robust evidence relating to the benefits [of prohibition] in terms of deterring use or reducing availability” .

Furthermore, it identifies several unintended consequences of prohibition which actually increase the risks to the health of drug users:

  1. Unknown quality, strength and purity of illicit drugs increases risk of overdose and poisoning,
  2. Illegal markets tending towards increasingly potent (and more profitable) drugs,
  3. Criminalisation and subsequent marginalisation or drug users pushes them into unhygienic and unsupervised environments.


In contrast to enforcement, the report finds drug treatment to be a far more cost effective use of public resources: research commissioned by the Home Office suggests that for every £1 spent on treatment, £2.50 is saved, mainly from the reduced costs of crime. Unfortunately, another unintended consequence of prohibition is that drug users are less likely to seek treatment for fear of stigma or criminal prosecution. 

The BMA therefore becomes the latest influential organisation to produce a report calling for a new approach to UK drug policy in as many months  –  joining the UKDPC, the Home Affairs Select Committee, and the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy Reform.


BBC Radio 5 Live British Medical Association calls for a new drug policy (Audio, 3 mins)

BBC News Drug policy must change, urges police chief (Video, 2m 30s, skip to 1m 25s)

BBC News British Medical Association calls for a new drug policy

The Times (paywall) Treating drug addiction as illness is the way forward

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