Dear Prime Minister
We have written to you on several occasions to highlight the harms of the current criminal justice approach to drugs, showing you how our drug laws disproportionately impact on black and Asian communities and the damage done by criminalising tens of thousands of people every year. In fact, we have told you that in the last 15 years 1.5 million British citizens have been criminalised for simple possession of drugs, impacting on their education and employment opportunities.
You are also fully aware of the international dimension to this, of the damage caused by the ‘drug war’ in countries such as Mexico where they’ve witnessed 100,000 people killed in 8 years as a direct result of the drugs trade.
One would imagine that based on the evidence, you would consider an alternative approach, something you strongly advocated in 2002. Yet, to all of this you have responded that you are confident that the current approach is the right one: drug use in the UK is falling after all, you say.
On December 2, the Health and Social Care Information Centre published "Statistics on Drug Misuse: England 2014" and it shows that our approach to drugs is failing across a number of criteria, not least your own of falling drug use. Some of the main findings include:
- Drug use has increased -- in 2013/14 the number of adults aged 16 to 59 who reported using illicit substances in the last year increased from 8.1 per cent in 2012/13 to 8.8 per cent. The increase amongst 16 to 24-year-olds is even more pronounced, rising from 16.2 to 18.9 per cent during the same period. Across this data there have been statistically significant increases in the last 12 months in relation to 16 to 24-year-olds who are reporting more "frequent drug use" and "stimulant" drug use.
- Hospital admissions for drug-related mental health and behavioural disorders have increased by 8.5 per cent from 6,549 incidents in 2012/13 to 7,104 in 2013/14.
- Poisonings by illicit drugs (primary diagnosis) have increased by 13.7 per cent in the last 12 months from 12,238 to 13,917 admissions. In the last 10 years admissions related to poisoning have increased by 76.7 per cent.
On this evidence, we would counter the notion that UK drug policy is working; even by your own standards of "falling drug use," it is clear the current approach does not work.
In fact, the Health and Social Care Information Centre recognises the problems that exist with the current system. When detailing the outcomes of drug misuse -- hospital admissions related to poisoning and mental health problems; problematic drug use; drug related deaths – the report states:
"Individuals who take illicit drugs face potential health risks, as the drugs are not controlled or supervised by medical professionals."
To add to this, on October 30, your own Home Office released a report looking at drug policies in various countries and found that there was "not … any obvious relationship between the toughness of a country’s enforcement against drug possession, and levels of drug use in that country." We hoped then that this would be the eureka moment, when you finally realised that we did not have to (needlessly) criminalise people who use drugs and that an alternative approach could be taken that reduced the harms of illicit substances.
But, it was not to be. Your response was that the "evidence is what we’re doing is working … Under this Government drug use is falling and I think that is because we have followed an evidence-based approach."
What was particularly worrying about this statement was the fact that, regardless of the levels of drug use, an ONS report in September 2014 had shown that drug-related deaths had increased 21 per cent in the last 12 months and that heroin/morphine-related deaths had risen by 32 per cent from 579 deaths in 2012/13 to 765 deaths in 2013/14. People are dying in increasing numbers under the current drug policy, but we can infer from your “drug use is falling” mantra that this is an acceptable price to pay.
On a final note -- when you said on October 30 that you did not want to decriminalise illegal drugs because as a parent you did not want to "send a message that somehow taking these drugs is OK or safe," it is worth considering that once again that 30 per cent of 15-year-olds reported having tried drugs last year.
The Health and Social Care Information Centre report clearly shows the UK’s drug policy is not working; people are dying, the health harms are increasing, and we are not protecting our children -- we need a new approach.