People living in the grip of drug addiction should be steered towards help and treatment to change their lifestyles rather than be criminalised or face prosecution.
That’s the view of Derbyshire Police and Crime Commissioner Hardyal Dhindsa who today spoke out in support of a new health report urging Whitehall to move away from a tough enforcement approach towards personal possession to one centred on reducing harm and rebuilding shattered lives.
In its new report, Taking a New Line on Drugs, the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) argues a new approach to tackling the use of illegal drugs is needed – one that focuses on recovery rather than punishment.
Backed by the Faculty of Public Health (FPH), Parliamentarians, drugs reform charities and law enforcement groups, the RSPH said responsibility for drugs policy should be transferred from the Home Office to the Department of Health so that it was more in line with alcohol and tobacco strategies that concentrated on health and wellbeing.
In calling for illegal drug use to be decriminalised, it urged the Government to strengthen the role of public health agencies in tackling drug harm reduction and to support communities damaged by the drugs trade.
The report precedes the Government’s expected drugs strategy and echoes the views of policing leaders and criminal justice experts across the UK.
Commenting on the new report, Commissioner Dhindsa said: “As a responsible and compassionate society, we need to help drug users escape their internal prison, not lock them in a justice ferris wheel which fails to address the roots of the problem.
“In the 30 years I worked for the probation service, I witnessed first-hand the misery and destruction that drug addiction wreaks on lives and have personally supervised drug offenders for many years. In almost every situation, what is needed and what works effectively is treatment and support, giving people the courage to change their lifestyles and turn their back on the revolving cycle of offending feeding habit.
“Addicts need experienced guidance and counselling to help them cope better with the chaos in their lives. No amount of sanctions will ever achieve this and in my experience they just don’t work.
“I support the message in this report and hope it prompts the Government to reconsider its policy so more vulnerable people are given access to life-changing help.”
The RSPH and FPH advocate a Portuguese-style model where drug possession continues to be prohibited but users are directed to treatment and support programmes rather than being charged with an offence. Under such a framework, producers and suppliers would continue to be prosecuted.
The report says the criminalisation approach creates additional barriers to education and employment and leads to greater exposure to drugs in prison while failing to address the root cause of addiction.
“I want to make it clear that I’m not advocating the use of illegal drugs nor saying drug taking should be ignored by police,” added Mr Dhindsa.
“I simply believe that it is time we look more closely at the evidence for what works and what doesn’t and understand how we as a society can better respond to the drug problems affecting individuals, families and communities to have a real chance at saving lives.”
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Posted on Monday 20th June 2016