UK drug policy must centre on health, says BMA

Health should be at the heart of UK drug policy and has overlooked the medical perspective for too long, a BMA report warns today.

BMA: health must be at heart of drug policy
BMA: health must be at heart of drug policy

‘Drugs of dependence – The role of medical professionals’ has been produced by the BMA’s board of science to explore what can be done to reduce the damage caused by addiction to illegal drugs.

The report looks into the level of drug dependency in the UK, treatment and medical management, the development of UK drug policy over time, the legal framework underpinning the current approach, and the role of healthcare professionals.

While the report acknowledges that UK drug policies are beginning to incorporate wider social and economic factors, it maintains that the focus on health remains inadequate. Drug users may be discouraged from approaching drug services, or volunteering accurate or complete information to health professionals, because they fear that policies are mainly focused on criminal justice, the report warns.

Professor Averil Mansfield, chair of the BMA’s board of science, said: ‘The BMA believes that drug users are patients first. That’s why we want health to be at the heart of the debate about drugs policy. We fear that too great a focus on criminalisation is deterring drug users from seeking medical help.

'While the medical profession would never condone illegal drug taking, we believe that we should show understanding of the illness of drug addiction and respond in the way that we would with any other medical problem.

'Effective drug policy should take account of the complex biological, psychological and social factors involved in illegal drug use. It is also vital that medical training should provide doctors with the basic knowledge about these factors to help clinicians identify patients at risk.’

The report also urges doctors and other policy makers to start considering and discussing the issues raised, based on the evidence.

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