Leading Doctor Calls For Drug Policy Reform

A senior doctor has joined the growing number of voices calling for UK drug law reform in the face of the impact that current policies have had on drug use, public health and organised crime.

Sir Ian Gilmore, the former president of the Royal College of Physicians, said today that “the problem is that this policy we have had for 40 years of saying that we do not want drugs in society just isn’t working.

“There’s a lot of evidence that the total prohibition of drugs, making them totally illicit and unavailable, has not been successful at reducing not only the health burden, but also the impact on crime.”

He formed his view based on problems he has seen over the course of his medical career, stating that: “We see people in hospitals every day who are suffering not from heroin but from dirty needles, from impure supplies of the drug.”

He also gave his backing to Nicholas Green QC, the chairman of the Bar Council of England and Wales, who said last month that “a growing body of comparative evidence suggests that decriminalising personal use can have positive consequences. It can free up huge amounts of police resources, reduce crime and recidivism and improve public health. All this can be achieved without any overall increase in drug usage. If this is so, then it would be rational to follow suit.”

All of this follows the pronouncement from former drugs adviser David Nutt that the criminal approach to drugs has failed spectacularly, and that the UK needs a radical new approach to drug laws, which may include the regulated sale of some substances. The decriminalisation of drugs that occurred in Portugal in 2001 has led to a cut in overdoses and a fall in the number of young users.

Polls on the websites of Channel 4 News and the Daily Mail backed the view taken by Sir Ian, although these calls appear to be falling on deaf ears. A Home Office Spokesman said: “Drugs such as heroin, cocaine and cannabis are extremely harmful and can cause misery to communities across the country. The government does not believe that decriminalisation is the right approach. Our priorities are clear: we want to reduce drug use, crack down on drug-related crime and disorder and help addicts come off drugs for good.”

Similarly, Keith Vaz, Labour MP and chairman of the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, said the legalisation of drugs “would simply create the mistaken impression that these substances are not harmful, when in fact this is far from the truth.” The hope remains however, that sustained pressure from the experts, the drug policy reform movement and the general public will eventually sway our political leaders into taking an evidence-based approach to drugs policy.