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UK’s drug policies are failing, says leading drugs charity
Embargoed until 00.01 8 June

Policies based solely on prohibition and the enforcement of anti-drugs laws are failing and need to be replaced with policies tackling the root causes of why people take drugs, argues Judith Willetts of the charity . In an article in this month’s Science & Public Affairs, Ms Willetts, Director of Information & Public Affairs at the charity, says that we need to invest in welfare services and accept that over-reliance on the prison system is simply exacerbating the harm caused by drug-related problems.

“We need to get people off drugs and create new ways to do this,” argues Ms Willetts. “We need to look at the reasons why people develop drug problems in the first place and try to prevent it happening for others. We must invest in treatment services and look at the way our social welfare systems are structured. We must put problematic drug use into its wider social context.”

It is estimated that the social and economic costs of problem drug use in Wales and England could be as high as £17.4 billion, with 88 percent of these costs being drug-related crime. However, says Ms Willetts, for every £1 spent on treating drugs users, £3 is saved on social costs, including dealing with crime.

At the heart of the problem, she believes, is that people with drug problems in the UK often have a range of other social needs, such as unemployment, poor housing or mental health, and it is these underlying issues that need to be considered when treating drug users.

“The need to present people with services that fit their needs, rather than fitting what is available to the person is still not being addressed,” she writes. “Those working in the welfare services need to be able to share information, or the services need to be configured in an integrated way, providing people with a one-stop shop.”

However, stresses Ms Willetts, whilst the charity is also in favour of the re-classification of cannabis, it does not believe that the legalisation of drugs is the answer.


1. Science & Public Affairs is a quarterly magazine published by the BA (British Association for the Advancement of Science).

2. The BA is the UK's nationwide, open membership organisation dedicated to connecting science with people, so that science and its applications become accessible to all. The BA aims to promote openness about science in society and to engage and inspire people directly with science and technology and their implications. Established in 1831, the BA organises major initiatives across the UK, including the annual BA Festival of Science, National Science Week, programmes of regional and local events, and an extensive programme for young people in schools and colleges. 

3. DrugScope is the UK’s leading centre of expertise on drugs. Its aim is to inform policy and reduce drug-related risk. It provides quality information, promotes effective responses to drug taking, undertakes research at local, national and international level, advises on policy-making, encourages informed debate and speaks for its member bodies working on the ground.