Release welcomes the new report from the Health and Social Care Committee, which calls for a health-focused and harm reduction approach to UK drug policy



Release welcomes the new report from the Health and Social Care Committee, which calls for a health-focused and harm reduction approach to UK drug policy

The Government’s current approach to drug policy is a failure


LONDON (October 23, 2019) – A Health and Social Care Committee Report published today has called for a radical new approach to the UK’s current drug policy, encouraging the Government to consult on the decriminalisation of drug possession for personal use from a criminal offence to a civil matter. Release welcomes this new approach, which would benefit people who use drugs and reduce the harm perpetuated by prohibitionist policies to all of society. 

Overwhelming evidence has consistently highlighted the benefits of a decriminalisation model of drug policy on an international scale, with reduced incarceration and recidivism, a reduced burden on police resources, decreasing drug-related deaths and greater health and social outcomes more broadly. 

The Committee has called for the Government to examine the Portuguese system, where decriminalisation was implemented as part of a comprehensive, multi-pronged approach to decreasing the individual and societal harms associated with drug use. Portugal ended criminal sanctions for drug possession in 2001, its drug-related death rate is 4 per million of the population. The Czech Republic decriminalised possession of all drugs in 2010, it also has a drug-related death rate of 4 per million. Compare these figures to the UK: 74 per million of the population has died as a result of government failures.

These deaths are avoidable but this public health crisis will not abate unless we scale up harm reduction initiatives and pursue policies based on evidence rather than ideology and moralism.

Release’s Executive Director, Niamh Eastwood welcomed the report, saying:

“We are now witnessing an unprecedented level of drug related deaths with an estimated 11 fatalities a day in the UK, these deaths are preventable and the proposals of the Committee go some way to address this crisis. The recommendations of the report are an evidenced based approach to drug policy and should be immediately adopted by the Conservative Government to ensure that our drug policy reduces harms and saves lives. However, we are concerned that the current tough on crime rhetoric from the Home Office will see a continued ideological approach to drugs rather than a pragmatic one as taken by the Committee.”

The Committee also stressed that access to drug treatment must be improved, with budget cuts of nearly 30% over the past three years making it increasingly difficult for the sector to provide for the people that rely on it most. In this light, Release welcomes the call for investment to be accompanied by a centrally co-ordinated clinical audit to ensure that guidelines are being followed in the best interests of vulnerable patients. Sufficient funding must be made available to ensure that harm reduction services are able to save lives through evidence-backed initiatives such as needle and syringe exchange programmes, take-home naloxone and drug consumption rooms or overdose prevention sites. Such sites operate in several countries across the world and have the capacity to reduce and reverse overdoses, improve public safety, improve the health of people who use drugs and reduce risky injecting behaviour.






Note to the editor: 

Release is the UK centre of expertise on drugs and drug laws, providing free and confidential specialist services to professionals, the public, and people who use drugs. Release also campaigns for the reform of UK drug policy, particularly the removal of criminal sanctions for possession offences, in order to bring about a fairer and more compassionate legal framework to managing drug use in our society.



Niamh Eastwood – - 07900 002 632