Monday, May 20, 2024
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Centre for Policy Studies goes out of its mind on drugs


Oh dear, the Centre for Policy Studies has gone all soft on drugs. In a witless and ill-informed article on drugs policy, Hannah Bettsworth, an intern at the CPS, writes that she wants us to follow Europe’s lead and legalise all drugs – at the very least, she says, the UK government should decriminalise drugs for personal use. It is clear, though, that Hannah wants our government to go much further than that and actually start to sell and tax the stuff. No need to meet your local dealer for your heroin, cocaine or ecstasy supply, just pop out to the high street and pick up whatever you need. Hannah seems to think that there is one policy shared across most of the European centres, which is liberal acceptance of illegal drugs. Wrong. Most countries in Europe maintain some sort of legal barriers against drug use.

For Hannah, it seems the UK government is responsible for drug deaths. Wrong again. Drugs are illegal because they are dangerous. If people persist in taking dangerous drugs, a proportion of them will die or suffer other serious long-term harms. It is not our government, or any government, that forces people to take drugs: individuals make that choice.

Hannah wants us to follow Portugal in allowing drugs for personal use. She writes positively about drug consumption rooms where people may use illegal drugs under some level of supervision. These centres, we are told, have proved effective in improving public health and public order. Before we rush to implement this policy, though, let’s just note the results of a recent meta-analysis published in the International Journal of Drug Policy (no hotbed of drugs prohibition at that journal) which concluded that the evidence about the positive impact of these centres in reducing the use of drugs in public and semi-public settings is at best modest and in some instances there was no significant impact at all. One reason for this is that those attending these centres often continue to be immersed in a drug-using lifestyle; continuing to inject in public or semi-public settings they continue to suffer the harms of their continuing drug use. Back to the drawing board, then, on drug consumption rooms.

As is so often the case with those calling for major public policy change, Hannah wants a Royal Commission on drugs – let’s discuss the whole issue of drugs policy and practice, as if somehow discussion of drugs policy and practice is a rare thing. Let’s be in no doubt, however, that drug use prevalence is predicted by one thing more than any other – availability. Anything that results in drugs becoming more available will result in more drugs being used, more addiction, more physical and psychological problems, more broken families, more derailed lives, and more failing communities. Drugs don’t help, Hannah. They make things worse. Much worse.

What on earth is going on at the CPS? There seems to be no attempt at accuracy with this article at all. Deaths from new psychoactive substances, for example, halved in 2017. The Psychoactive Substances Act, which made many of them illegal, came into effect in spring 2016.

Long lauded as one of the UK’s few centre-Right think tanks, the CPS seems fast on its way to becoming a branch office of the Transform Drug Policy legalisation lobby group. Whatever you think about drug issues, that is a surprising and regrettable development.

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Neil McKeganey
Neil McKeganey
Director of the Centre for Drug Misuse Research in Glasgow and former Government drug policy advisor.

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