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Thoughts on the new Drug Strategy 2017 – Part 2 Restricting Supply

The Government published its new Drug Strategy on 14th July. It sets out “how the government and its partners, at local, national and international levels, will take new action to tackle drug misuse and the harms it causes.”

See the full document here 

WillWith his years of experience in this field here is the second in a series of reflective pieces from Will Johnston.






Restricting Supply

For anyone unfamiliar with the drugs agenda, the 1st page of the “Reducing Supply” section highlights the hypocrisy of successive governments.

They argue that drugs “are illegal because scientific and medical analysis has shown they are harmful to human health”. All well and good, if it wasn’t for the fact that the same can also be said of tobacco, alcohol and sugar. Or falling off horses. Or crashing cars.

If all drugs are harmful to human health, why allow doctors to prescribe the myriad of pills and potions they do? Why allow some to be sold at supermarkets? Contrary to popular belief, using strong opiates does not automatically turn a person in to an addict. If it did, the care homes of the UK would be awash with twitching pensioners withdrawing from the morphine they were given following their hip replacements.

Just like alcohol, controlled use of some drugs simply lead to an enjoyable, social experience, so why is there an obsession with illegality and criminalisation? One excuse given is that it is “overly simplistic to say that decriminalisation works”. However, it is also overly simplistic to simply make things illegal. If that approach worked there’d be no need for a strategy in the first place, or indeed of a police force, as the fear of breaking the law would create a compliant society and render them redundant.

It is this obsession that created the much-delayed Psychoactive Substances Act 2016, an act so badly thought out, for an issue so misunderstood, that original drafts would have made a cup of tea with 2 sugars illegal and led to court proceedings against the staff of shops and supermarkets across the country. Whilst this act has led to the closure of “head shops” and reduced high street and indiscreet sales, the people who used these substances haven’t just gone away. They’ve either found ways to circumvent the law or switched to other substances. For example, one former service user in my old patch now just uses heroin instead and many others over use alcohol or illicitly obtained prescription only medication. So they’re still putting themselves at significant risk, but not with legal substances from the high street, so that’s alright then.

If the Government were serious about reducing the harms to human health, a small tweak to existing legislation, enabling sellers to offer advice on things like dose, side effects and what not to do, would have done far more to save lives than a ban ever will.

For the first in this series see Part 1 Overview and Reducing Demand 

Read Part 3 Building Recovery

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