Charity chief welcomes radical Home Office report calling for illegal drugs to be considered health issue

A south London drug and alcohol treatment centre welcomed this week’s Home Office report into Britain’s drug laws, said their chief executive.

Nick Barton’s charity, Action on Addiction, treats up to 23 women at Clapham Common’s Hope House, and was chosen by the Duchess of Cambridge as one of the first charities she became patron of.

Liberal Democrat Minister Norman Baker’s report calls for a radical change in government policy from treating drugs as a criminal issue to treating them as a health issue.

Mr Barton said: “Today’s report once again highlights the need for addiction to be treated as a health condition, rather than a criminal justice one.

“Addiction is complex and throwing people into prison, as this report shows, has not been a panacea,” he said.

“For a small number of people it can kick start them to seek treatment but incarceration, rather than offering support to people who have drug problems is rarely a solution.

“In fact, some people overdose on the day they are released as their tolerance has declined but their desire for the drug has not,” he added.

Mr Baker’s report highlighted the ‘considerable’ improvement in the health of drug addicts in Portugal, where addiction has been treated as a health issue since 2001.

Danny Kushlick, head of external affairs at Transform, a charitable think tank that campaigns for legal regulation of drugs, believes that Britain should adopt the Portuguese approach.

“The Portuguese model would work very well here, in terms of not criminalising pleasure seekers and not criminalising people with problems,” he said.

“The appropriate response to people having fun is to make sure they stay safe and the appropriate response to people with problems is to offer them treatment.”

Mr Kushlick accused both main political parties of failing to address the matter.

“Basically David Cameron is playing politics with people’s lives and he knows full well that prohibition kills and it undermines public health and it causes crime,” he said.

“The Labour party also knows that prohibition is overwhelmingly counter-productive but has remained silent; they are just as culpable.”

Mr Barton highlighted the need for investment in high quality treatment services to help addicts.

“Whatever goes on elsewhere in the world, I think we can only guess at the consequences of decriminalisation and legalisation in this country and if we go down that route we had better be prepared,” he said.

“We do know that people will become addicted whatever the legality or otherwise of substances and will need good help.”

Picture courtesy of Casey Muir-Taylor, with thanks

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