MPs are calling for an overhaul of drug laws to tackle excess deaths in the UK, including piloting safe spaces for users to consume drugs under medical supervision.
Interventions to reduce risks should also include a national drug checking service so people can anonymously test samples and an expansion of onsite drug testing at places such as music festivals, the Home Affairs Committee said.
The committee said in a report that the government’s 10 year drugs strategy rightly emphasised a change in focus towards a public health approach to combating drug misuse.1 But it said that health based interventions should be “significantly expanded” for them to be able to curb drug related deaths and harms. It said that the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and other drug misuse regulations needed to be updated to support greater use of public health interventions while focusing law enforcement on tackling the illicit production and supply of controlled drugs.
The cost of illicit drugs to society is estimated to be £19bn a year, more than twice the value of the illicit drug trade. But too little is done to reduce the significant risks to public health either in the short or long term, the MPs said.
In 2021 there were 25 drug misuse deaths per 100 000 population in Scotland (1330 deaths), which compared with 8.8 in Great Britain as a whole and 1.8 in the EU.2
The Scottish government has been pressing for a safe consumption pilot scheme to be set up in Glasgow. The Home Affairs Committee said that if the UK government refused it, powers to allow such schemes should be devolved, so that evidence could be evaluated.
The committee’s chair, Diana Johnson, said that the UK government should be taking “much more meaningful action to tackle the broad range of drug related problems.” She added, “Simply attempting to remove drugs from people’s lives hasn’t worked. They need the right support to let them deal with addiction but also psychosocial support and interventions that deal with the underlying trauma that may have led them to drugs in the first place.”
The MPs said that drug checking services help reduce the harms caused by high strength or dangerous combinations of drugs and could provide advice on harm reduction. They called for such services to be expanded at music festivals and within the night-time economy, to set up a dedicated licensing scheme ahead of the 2024 festival season.
They also said that a national drug checking scheme should be set up across the UK to allow samples to be submitted anonymously by post.
Public health leaders said that some of the MPs’ recommendations reflected key evidence they had submitted. Greg Fell, vice president of the Association of Directors of Public Health, said, “The report’s emphasis on reducing the harm caused by drug use is particularly welcome, [as are] initiatives such as drug checking, overdose prevention centres, needle and syringe programmes, diamorphine assisted therapy, and naloxone provision.”
In a joint statement with the Faculty of Public Health Fell said, “What is important now is that the government pay attention to this report and take proactive steps to improve how we tackle drug use that aren’t solely based on punitive actions.”
Tracy Daszkiewicz, faculty vice president, said a comprehensive reform of legislation was overdue, including amendments to make it easier to pilot overdose prevention centres in the UK.