Decriminalise all drugs for personal use now and provide addiction support instead, say MPs

  • Decriminalisation would mean anyone caught with 'modest' amount not arrested
  • Those caught with drugs would also not be fined or end up with a criminal record
  • MPs also called for addicts to be able to inject themselves under supervision

Drugs including heroin should be decriminalised and users given 'addiction support' instead, MPs say today.

The highly controversial move would mean that anyone caught with a 'modest' amount of drugs would not be arrested, fined or sent to prison.

There would be no criminal record – just the chance to get help with beating drug addiction. MPs are also calling for addicts to be allowed to inject themselves under supervision in so-called 'shooting gallery' rooms as part of a huge shake-up in the UK's 'failing' drugs laws.

They also recommend that pharmacies should hand out clean needles and doctors be allowed to prescribe heroin on the NHS in special cases.

Drugs including heroin should be decriminalised and users given 'addiction support' instead, MPs say today (stock image)

Drugs including heroin should be decriminalised and users given 'addiction support' instead, MPs say today (stock image)

The recommendations from the Health and Social Care Committee are some of the most radical so far.

Dr Sarah Wollaston, Liberal Democrat chairman of the committee, said the rise in drug-related deaths had become a 'public health emergency.'

She added: 'UK drugs policy is clearly failing. Recommendations put forward in this report propose changes to drugs policy that are desperately needed to prevent thousands of deaths.' Drug deaths in England and Wales are among the highest in Europe – 2,917 last year or 40 a day.

This number rose by 16 per cent between 2017 and 2018 and is more than double the EU average per head of population. The report states that the only way to tackle the crisis is to move from a criminal justice approach to a health and harm-reduction strategy.

The MPs urge the Government to 'consult on the decriminalisation of drug possession for personal use from a criminal offence to a civil matter.'

Dr Sarah Wollaston (pictured) said the rise in drug-related deaths had become a 'public health emergency'

Dr Sarah Wollaston (pictured) said the rise in drug-related deaths had become a 'public health emergency'

Their report also suggests that ministers follow the example of Portugal where all drugs have been decriminalised since 2001 – although they are technically still illegal. Drug crime has fallen dramatically and HIV infection rates, overdose deaths and overall substance use have also plummeted.

But critics say decriminalising deadly substances such as heroin would send out the wrong message. They are concerned that drug addiction rates would soar particularly among the young as there would be no criminal sanctions for those caught. David Green, director of the think-tank Civitas, said that adopting the system used by Portugal simply 'would not work in the UK' without major changes.

He said: 'The main reason for the high level of drug-taking here is not that criminalisation is failing – rather it is because the law is not fully enforced in many localities.'

He also said the MPs did not 'fully understand' how Portugal's drug laws operated.

Referring to the Portuguese system, he said: 'A person found in possession of drugs for personal use is referred to a local panel which can impose a fine or, for certain occupations such as teaching or medicine, suspend professional licences. Medical treatment is made available for addicts.

'Without the creation of such a local network of panels and a major expansion of local treatment centres, the Portuguese system would not work in the UK.'

Some police forces already allow users to avoid prosecution and attend educational awareness programmes, depending on the circumstances.

Durham, Avon and Somerset and Thames Valley police have all trialled courses as an alternative to criminal sanctions

Dr Wollaston said: 'Every drug death should be regarded as preventable and yet across the UK the number of drugs-related deaths continue to rise to the scale of a public health emergency.

'Avoidable drug deaths are increasing year-on-year across the UK but there has been a failure to act on the evidence. Scotland is particularly hard-hit with the highest death rate in Europe.

'A holistic approach centred on improving the health of and reducing the harm faced by drug users, as well as increasing the treatment available, must be a priority going forward. This approach would not only benefit those who are dependent on drugs but benefit their wider communities.

'The Government should learn lessons from the international experience, including countries like Portugal. It should consult on the decriminalisation of drug possession for personal use from a criminal offence to a civil matter.'

Doctors' leaders backed the calls for a health-based approach but would not be drawn on whether drugs should be decriminalised.

Professor Dame Parveen Kumar, of the British Medical Association, said: 'We have long called on the Government to adopt a health-based approach to tackling illicit drug use, with the focus firmly on prevention, treatment and support.

'Treatments that have a track record in reducing harm, such as consumption rooms, should be made more widely available.'

Decriminalise all drugs for personal use now and provide addiction support instead, say MPs 

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