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Leading doctor urges decriminalisation of drugs

By Balzafire, Aug 16, 2010 | Updated: Aug 16, 2010 | | |
  1. Balzafire
    Former president of the Royal College of Physicians says blanket ban has failed to cut crime or improve health

    One of the UK's leading doctors said today the government should consider decriminalising drugs because the blanket ban has failed to cut crime or improve health.

    "I'm not saying we should make heroin available to everyone, but we should be treating it as a health issue rather than criminalising people," said Sir Ian Gilmore, former president of the Royal College of Physicians.

    Gilmore put his position on the record publicly today after telling fellows and members of the college last month in a statement that he felt like "finishing my presidency on a controversial note".

    He gave his backing to Nicholas Green, chairman of the Bar Council, who recently suggested individual use be decriminalised.

    "This could drastically reduce crime and improve health," said Gilmore, who added that drugs should still be regulated.

    He praised an article published on 13 July in the British Medical Journal by Stephen Rolles, senior policy analyst at the Transform Drug Policy Foundation, which, he said, clearly made the argument for decriminalisation.

    Rolles pointed out not only that criminalising drug use had exacerbated health problems such as HIV, which can be spread by the use of contaminated needles, but had created a much larger array of secondary harms, including "vast networks of organised crime, endemic violence related to the drug market, corruption of law enforcement and governments, militarised crop eradication programmes (environmental damage, food insecurity, and human displacement), and funding of terrorism and insurgency."

    Decriminalisation in Portugal in 2001, Rolles said, had led to a fall in drug use among young people. A study by the World Health Organisation, he added, has shown that countries taking tough action do not have lower levels of drug use than countries with liberal policies.

    The editor of the British Medical Journal, Dr Fiona Godlee, gave her personal support to Rolles' call for decriminalisation.

    "He says, and I agree, that we must regulate drug use, not criminalise it," she wrote in the journal.

    Danny Kushlik, head of external affairs at Transform, which campaigns for legalisation, said the intervention of senior medical professionals was significant.

    "Sir Ian's statement is yet another nail in prohibition's coffin," he said. "The Hippocratic oath says: 'First, do no harm'. Physicians are duty bound to speak out if the outcomes show that prohibition causes more harm than it reduces."

    He added: "With a prime minister and deputy prime minister both longstanding supporters of alternatives to the war on drugs, at the very least the government must initiate an impact assessment comparing prohibition with decriminalisation and strict legal regulation."

    Nicholas Green, chairman of the Bar Council, made his comments in a report in the profession's magazine, in which he said that drug-related crime costs the economy about £13bn a year. There was growing evidence that decriminalisation could free up police resources, reduce crime and recidivism and improve public health.

    Last month, Professor David Nutt, who was sacked as the Labour government's top drugs adviser after saying ecstasy was less harmful than alcohol, said the UK needed a radical new approach to drugs laws, which may include the regulated sale of some drugs.

    Sarah Boseley, health editor
    guardian.co.uk, Monday 16 August 2010


  1. mickey_bee
    Damn straight!

    That was a great issue of the BMJ, but also a very depressing one, particularly when it looked at the situation of heroin-related services and treatment in Russia.

    But the article by Stephen Rolles really was the perfect answer to how to decriminalise drugs, and how to regulate their availability.

    How long is this going to take? All I hope is that when steps are made to move away from prohibition, they don't implement a half-hearted system of decriminalisation.
  2. Jatelka
    Here's the BBC's version of the story:

    Drugs law review backed by former RCP president

    [​IMG] Sir Ian Gilmore said drug prohibition was "not a success"
    Decriminalising drug use could drastically reduce crime and improve health, the outgoing president of the Royal College of Physicians has said.
    Sir Ian Gilmore said the laws on misuse of drugs should be reviewed and that their supply should be regulated.
    He had formed his view after seeing the problems caused by dirty needles and contaminated drugs, the BBC's health correspondent Adam Brimelow said.

    "Everyone who has looked at this in a serious and sustained way concludes that the present policy of prohibition is not a success” Sir Ian Gilmore Royal College of Physicians

    The government said it did not believe this was the right approach.
    In a parting e-mail to 25,000 RCP members, which Sir Ian said expressed his own views rather than those of the RCP, he wrote that he felt like finishing his presidency on a "controversial note".
    He endorsed a recent article in the British Medical Journal by Stephen Rolles, from the think tank Transform Drug Policy Foundation, which argued that the policy of prohibition had harmed public health, encouraged organised crime and fuelled corruption.
    Sir Ian told the BBC: "Everyone who has looked at this in a serious and sustained way concludes that the present policy of prohibition is not a success.
    "There are really strong arguments to look again."
    Sir Ian said he had had a longstanding interest in the subject, stemming from his work as a liver specialist.

    "Every day in our hospital wards we see drug addicts with infections from dirty needles, we see heroin addicts with complications from contaminated drugs," he said.
    'Nail in the coffin'
    He argued that many of the problems health staff encountered were the consequences not of heroin itself, but of prohibition.
    In his e-mail, Sir Ian wrote: "I personally back the chairman of the UK Bar Council, Nicholas Green QC, when he calls for drug laws to be reconsidered with a view to decriminalising illicit drugs use. This could drastically reduce crime and improve health," he wrote.
    In his recent report to the Bar Council, Mr Green said there was growing evidence that decriminalising personal use could free up police resources, reduce crime and improve public health.

    Mr Rolles - whose recent BMJ article Sir Ian cited in his e-mail - told BBC Radio 4's Today programme their arguments were "built on a critique of the failure of the last 40 or 50 years".
    He said the "punitive criminal justice-driven war on drugs" had delivered the opposite of its goals.
    "It hasn't reduced drug use, it hasn't prevented the availability of drugs, but it has created a whole raft of secondary problems associated with the illegal market, including making drugs more dangerous than they already are and undermining public health and fuelling crime."
    "That is provoking a debate on what the alternative approaches are and the one that we are calling for is legally regulated production supply."
    He said those who found such a proposal difficult to stomach needed to "accept the pragmatic reality that demand for drugs exists now".
    "[That demand] will be met one way or another, and we have a choice - we can either leave that supply in the hands of the worse possible people - the illegal market controlled by violent criminal profiteers - or we can control it by appropriate authorities in ways that will reduce the harm that it causes."
    He called on the government to look at the evidence and assess the current policy compared with the alternatives, instead of following the "traditional political grandstanding and moral posturing which has characterised drugs policy over the last few decades".
    'Extremely harmful'
    In a statement the Royal College of Physicians said a joint report in 2000 with the Royal College of Psychiatrists had called for much greater investment in research and in treatment programmes.
    The RCP said it was hoping to review the report's findings under its new president, Sir Richard Thompson.
    A spokesperson for the Home Office 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."
  3. corvardus
    Reading about the news story on the Daily Fail and on the BBC Website "Have your Say" I'd say a comfortable majority of individuals are on the side of a more rational drugs policy rather than myopic prohibition.

    Even the Daily Fail readers seem to be more supportive than not. This is a good sign perhaps in 10 years the politicians will recognise this support and begin to follow suit.
  4. corvardus
    SWIM just had a thought. Failure of prohibition has been around since the beginning (Genesis: 2:16-17) why people think they can solve problems caused by it when even God failed dismally is beyond me.
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