Drink and Drugs News DDN March 2020 | Page 12

POLICY A CHANGE OF When a ‘general in the war of drugs’ calls the campaign a complete failure, it’s time to listen. DDN reports from the GPs’ conference ‘F or the last 40 years we have been fighting a war on drugs. I’ve been a general. We sought to deal with it through the hammer blow of the criminal justice system and I am sorry for having supported this war. It has been an utter failure.’ Lord Charles Falconer was addressing an audience of GPs at the recent RCGP/SMMGP conference on managing drug and alcohol problems in primary care. The former minister under Tony Blair’s government, whose roles had included justice secretary, said: ‘It’s time for us to acknowledge our failure and examine the evidence-based alternatives.’ ‘Addiction knows no class barriers – everybody knows somebody who is affected,’ he said. Post- EU (and the conference was held on Britain’s withdrawal day), ‘the connection between those who know what they’re talking about and politicians has to be restored.’ One of the most obvious ways of ‘protecting the public from the cruel consequences of an obviously wrong policy’ would be to legalise and regulate drugs, taking them out of the hands of criminals. He referred to the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, ‘whose base was xenophobia’, and the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act, a ‘pernicious policy’ which the UK has continued to support ‘even though it has brought death to thousands’. ‘You only need to look at overdose deaths compared to those countries who have moved away from punishment, such as Portugal, to see this approach is catastrophic,’ he said. Politicians were terrified of moving away from this approach because they were ‘worried about being characterised as flip-flop wearing liberals’. ‘We have produced some terrible soundbites – tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime’, he said, and the reliance on prohibition as the 12 • DRINK AND DRUGS NEWS • MARCH 2020 main tool had ‘gifted profit to criminals’. The main casualties had been the poorest, with not enough treatment and ‘terrifying numbers’ dying – most of these deaths preventable. Furthermore, we were trapped in a drug policy war: ‘Every pound we spend on prohibition, the more Lord Charles Falconer Dr Ed Day we spend on clearing it up.’ So what could be the way forward? There was a clear need for ‘People are no longer interested in high blown evidence-based policy, he said, and we had to take rhetoric, they want solutions,’ he said. ‘If people a harm reduction approach that was ‘holistic and don’t like the way drugs affect their families and non-judgemental’, giving access to services. community, change will come.’ ‘The government has to direct significant investment in drug services as a matter of TEN YEAR ROLLERCOASTER urgency,’ he said, with funding made available Six months into his role as national recovery to ensure heroin-assisted treatment, needle champion, Dr Ed Day reflected on the run-up to exchanges, naloxone, and consumption rooms his appointment and the progress he had been (on a pilot basis, with evaluation), as well as able to make so far. He was realistic about the testing at festivals. capacity of his part-time unpaid role (alongside ‘The first priority must be to strengthen drug his other jobs), but also optimistic that his treatment services and develop harm reduction,’ experience as a consultant addiction psychiatrist he said, ‘and also improve the life chances of and knowledge of the sector contributed to people who are recovering’. At the same time, evidence-based practice. we should review commissioning of services He talked of the ‘rollercoaster’ of the last ten and look at improvements to the local model. years – first, the halcyon years of the Tony Blair He suggested setting up a central body for drug decade, when there was a massive expansion of policy, reinstating a drug czar and considering a services around criminal justice and the advent national agency to overview commissioning. The of the NTA, ‘which drove a real interest in the other vital call to action was to address the ‘crisis evidence base’. GPs were able to drive up the in the drug treatment workforce’, which included quality of prescribing. the drastic reduction in psychiatrist numbers. Then came the ‘crash’ of 2008, followed ‘The main casualties are the poorest, with not enough treatment and terrifying numbers dying – most of these preventable.’ ‘The development of peer-led recovery communities has stalled. We need to find a way to kickstart self- sustaining systems.’ WWW.DRINKANDDRUGSNEWS.COM