DRUGS (abuse of)
November 2010 - the Nutt Case rambles on
June 1st 2011 - The global war on drugs has "failed" according to a new report by group of politicians and former world leaders.

MARCH 08 2007
The RSA* report referred to below is easily misunderstood. For that reason I consider it will be initially counterproductive.

I am frankly surprised that Professor Anthony King could make such a pig's ear of it when he has in fact put his finger on important matters for consideration.

"For over 250 years the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) has been a cradle of enlightenment thinking and a force for social progress.  Our approach is multi-disciplinary, politically independent and combines cutting edge research and policy development with practical action" http://www.thersa.org/about-us

In the summary of the report below you will see references to "Harmful Substances", with Alcohol lumped in there with Heroin and Cocaine.

There are no 'harmful substances'. There are Dangerous Substances and there is Harmful Behaviour.

The Harmful behaviour at issue is the ABUSE OF DANGEROUS SUBSTANCES

For example, what we have in the case of alcohol is an extraordinary level of abuse of a substance
normally harmless to the majority of people. In the concentration it is found in alcoholic beverages, alcohol is not only harmless to most of the world's population but socially and medically beneficial even when used recreationally in moderate amounts.

The other substances mentioned in the report should be used medicinally only. That goes for Cannabis which is not even mentioned. (but see: Cannabis and the Law on this web site)

It is not correct to say that 'a majority of  people who use drugs are able to use them without harming themselves or others. Anyone using medicinal substances habitually or for recreational use is setting a bad example and breeding a spreading culture which will cause harm to society as a whole and life-changing harm to many individuals. It has been said that if all those who indulged in social drinking used drugs instead, it would be better. This is obviously untrue. What is at issue is not substances but ABUSE of substances. Alcoholic drinks are imbibed for the obvious pleasure they give in appearance, refreshment and the enhancement of fine food. Massive abuse will of course give problems. Prohibition was a proven disaster.

The number of people whose death is caused by alcohol is high because nearly everyone drinks. Without alcohol there would certainly be more untimely deaths caused both by other substances or the lack of alcohol 'that maketh glad the heart of man'.

The only thing, at the end of the day, to take home from this report is that the current drug laws are not working well. This is because the prisons, with a few pioneering exceptions, are not working well. Imprisonment of drug users is certain to turn a percentage of them into more serious dealers, and the rest of them into more serious users and people who will find subsequent legal employment more difficult.

So there are things to be changed, and the Commision's report has some merit, but even when explaning his report Professor King uses language inaccurately and incompetently. He does himself and his cause no favours. The paragraphs you have just read, on the other hand, are FACT.

Drug laws 'need major overhaul'
Drug laws in Britain are expected to be criticised as being "not fit for purpose", according to a major report.

An investigation by the RSA says illicit substances can be "harmless", while drinking and smoking can cause as many problems.

It says the law has been "driven by moral panic", and suggests policy-making should be left to drug teams and local authorities.

The Home Office says it does not accept all of the report's recommendations.

Level of crime

Anthony King, professor of government at Essex University, who chaired the Commission on Illegal Drugs, said the "great majority" of drug users did not harm themselves or others.

"Current policy is broke and needs to be fixed," he added.

The RSA's panel recommends scrapping the Misuse of Drugs Act and replacing it with a broader Misuse of Substances Act, and replacing the existing ABC classification system with an "index of harms".

Panel members included Deputy Assistant Commissioner John Yates of the Metropolitan Police.

A majority of people who use drugs are able to use them without harming themselves or others
RSA report

This would extend the definition of drugs to include alcohol and tobacco - as well as illegal substances, which the report says have been "demonised".

The report, entitled Illegal Drugs, Communities and Public Policy, also calls for so-called "shooting galleries" to be introduced where users can inject drugs as well as wider access to prescription heroin.

It says policy should be about reducing harm and pursuing the criminal gangs behind the drugs trade rather than the level of crime.

If drug taking does not harm anyone, then criminal sanctions should not be applied, the report continues.

'Harmless use'

The report says: "The evidence suggests that a majority of people who use drugs are able to use them without harming themselves or others.

"The harmless use of illegal drugs is thus possible, indeed common."

It says drugs education is "inconsistent, irrelevant, disorganised", and its main focus should shift from secondary to primary schools.

The Home Office has estimated that the social cost of drug abuse alone to Britain is between £10bn and £17bn a year.

1. Heroin
2. Cocaine
3. Barbiturates
4. Street methadone
5. Alcohol
Source: Science select committee

It said its strategy has led to a 16% fall in drugs crime and more people able to access treatment.

Martin Barnes from the charity Drugscope said drug use needed to be addressed as a wider social problem.

He added: "There's really far too great an emphasis on it being a problem solely associated with crime.

"It's about public health, it's about poor mental health, it's about homelessness."

'Worryingly complacent'

Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith said the report was "worryingly complacent".

He added: "The RSA has also failed to do its homework by not surveying the views of drug addicts - who want recovery and drug-free lives - not managed dependency on methadone."

Former home secretary David Blunkett told BBC Radio 4's Today programme he wanted to see "a much more sensible debate" and that he supported a "substantial" expansion of the prescribing of heroin.

But James Griffith-Edwards, emeritus professor of addiction behaviour at the University of London, told BBC Radio Five Live that he was sceptical about the report.

The RSA is a think tank which was founded in 1754
Its Commission on Illegal Drugs was set up in January 2005
It asked: "If current policy and practice on illegal drugs are not working, why not?"
Panel members included drugs experts, academics, politicians and community workers

He said: "I doubt whether any swingeing remedies would get one very far."

However, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Nick Clegg called the report "an extremely important contribution" to the debate, adding: "The so-called war on drugs is failing."

And Steve Rolles of drug law reform campaign group Transform praised the Commission's findings.

"This really is a rational response to 30 years of dramatic failure," he said.

Benzodiazepines: Wide-ranging class of prescription tranquilisers
Buprenorphine: Opioid drug used in treatment of opiate addiction
4-MTA : Amphetamine derivative sold as 'flatliners' and ecstasy
Methylphenidate: Amphetamine-like drug used to treat ADHD
Alkyl nitrites: Stimulant often called amyl nitrites or 'poppers'