England’s most senior doctor has questioned the government’s policy of criminalising all people who take illegal drugs and said they should be treated primarily as if they have a “health problem”.
Professor Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer, said that at present illegal use of drugs was treated mainly as a law and order issue.
However, giving evidence to MPs Dame Sally referred to research which suggested the focus on criminalisation was “deterring drug users from seeking medical help”.
She said: “I think we have a health problem, and we would do well as a nation to look at is as a health problem. I think there’s quite a lot of evidence from other countries, and science, about how you could go about that.
“But the lead for drugs [policy], and alcohol actually, is the Home Office, and this Government is choosing to continue to treat it in that way.”
She said that if the Coalition decided to decriminalise some drugs, she was “ready with quite a lot of advice” about how to help drug users.
Her comments have prompted campaigners to call again for a Royal Commission to review drugs laws, which could look at decriminalisation.
Dame Sally’s intervention comes a week after the British Medical Association published a report warning that the focus on criminalisation was discouraging drug users to seek medical help or advice.
She told the Science and Technology select committee that she was examining evidence from other countries about treating illegal drugs as principally a “health” issue rather than a criminal one.
She said: “I am watching the accumulation of evidence – the BMA last week talking about the health harms and everything.
“But it’s not high on my list of ‘to try and dos’ because I’ve got so much else and the Coalition has not chosen to decriminalise it. If they chose to, we will be ready with quite a lot of advice.”
Both Portugal and the Netherlands, where drugs policy is led by their health departments, have chosen to decriminalise possession of small quantities for personal use. In Germany, both cannabis and heroin can now be prescribed in certain circumstances.
By Stephen Adams
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