Doctors urged to join debate on drugs policy
15 January 2013
Doctors leaders have today launched a drive to put health at the heart of the UK’s drugs policy.
Drugs of Dependence: The Role of Medical Professionals calls on doctors to lead the debate on the future direction of drugs policies and encourage an approach that focuses on elements other than criminal justice.
The report, published by the BMA board of science, wants:
- A debate on the most effective approaches to preventing and reducing the harm associated with illegal drug use and drug-control policies, based on an independent and objective review of the evidence contained in the report
- To encourage dialogue between the medical profession and policy makers, legislators, the police, service providers and academics who have knowledge and expertise in this area
- To examine the doctor’s role in the medical management of drug dependence and the ethical challenges of working within the criminal justice system.
Users 'patients first'
The BMA does not make any recommendations about which direction UK drugs policy should take. But it stresses that individuals who are addicted to illegal drugs are patients first, with medical conditions, which should be treated as any other illnesses. It also calls for better training about the issue for doctors, starting at medical school.
BMA board of science chair Averil Mansfield said: ‘The BMA believes that drug users are patients first. That is why we want health to be at the heart of the debate about drugs policy.
‘We fear that too great a focus on criminalisation is deterring drug users from seeking medical help. While the medical profession would never condone illegal drug taking, we believe that we should show understanding of the illness of drug addiction and respond in the way that we would with any other medical problem.’
The BMA report acknowledges that UK drug policies are beginning to incorporate wider social and economic factors. But it maintains that the focus on health remains inadequate.
It collates and analyses the evidence relating to drug dependency, including the scale of the problem, treatment and medical management, the development of UK drug policy over time, and the role of healthcare professionals in tackling the problem.
Professor Mansfield added: ‘Effective drug policy should take account of the complex biological, psychological and social factors involved in illegal drug use.
‘There is no one-size-fits-all answer. Drug addiction cannot be seen in isolation. An individual’s social circumstances play a key role in addiction and therefore a holistic approach to treatment is vital.’
Copies of the report have been sent to prime minister David Cameron, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, the Department of Health, Home Office and Ministry of Justice, as well as medical royal colleges and drugs organisations.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy Reform yesterday called for drug possession and use of all drugs to be decriminalised. The group, chaired by Baroness Meacher, also recommended a review of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.