The Government’s new drugs strategy has been condemned as “business for usual” for failing to embrace radical solutions to soaring drug deaths.
The Home Office announced its long-awaited strategy that pledges to crack down on drug dealders and cut demand by expanding education on drugs and alcohol and expanding the Prevention Information Service.
Writing on HuffPost UK, Home Secretary Amber Rudd said the plan would target “unscrupulous drug dealers” while trying to do more to “protect the vulnerable – to prevent them falling into the cycle of drug abuse and to help them turn their lives around”.
While the new strategy does call a rise in drug deaths “dramatic and tragic”, it was condemned as “business as usual” by one advocate for change.
Niamh Eastwood, executive director of drug law experts Release, told HuffPost UK the strategy should have mooted ending criminal punishment for possession, following the lead of other countries.
She said: “With drug related deaths at an all-time high the government should be ashamed of this strategy.
“Recovery from drugs, defined as being drug free, is still at the core of the government’s approach, in our view this approach has contributed to people dying.
“If the government really wanted to save lives then this strategy was an opportunity to do so, they could have endorsed heroin prescribing, drug consumption rooms, pill testing, and other harm reduction interventions that protect health and communities.
“Through our work with people who use drugs we see the damage done by government policy every day. For the last seven years treatment quality has dwindled in many parts of the country, with services more focused on pushing people out of treatment due to national policy and local commissioning practices.”
Deaths from heroin and morphine have more than doubled over three years. In 2015, 2,479 people died in England and Wales because of illegal drug use, 10% more than the year before. In total, 3,674 people died from legal and illegal drug use, the highest since records began in 1993.
Eastwood added: “Whilst the Government lacks the courage to support and invest in more innovative and pragmatic initiatives, we should not be surprised to see more people dying, and what is tragic is that these deaths could be prevented.”