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Drugs inquiry launched

10 February 2022

The Home Affairs Committee announces a new inquiry to examine illegal drug use in the UK and its effect on society.

The manufacture and trade of illegal drugs is a key driver of organised crime. A Home Affairs Committee report into violence against retail workers noted a strong relationship between substance misuse, shop theft and the use of violence and aggression by drug-affected offenders. The total drugs offences recorded by the police across the UK in 2020/21 was 253,875.

Drug misuse and addiction in the UK has a serious impact on public health and wider society. In 2020/21 there were 6,091 drug related deaths in the UK, having grown steadily over the previous decade. NHS England recorded 100,000 admissions for drug-related mental and behavioural disorders in 2019/20.  

The inquiry will investigate the current impact of legislation designed to restrict the use of dangerous or harmful drugs. This will include the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, which prohibits the production, possession and supply of controlled substance, and gives the Home Secretary power to decide on where the use of controlled substances is permitted. The Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 was introduced to respond to the emergence of ‘legal highs’ that fell outside of existing legislation, and to better enable the Government to respond to the emergence of new drugs. 

It will also examine how effective Government-led strategies to reduce drug use, drug related mortality and drug related criminality have been and what improvements could be made. This will include the recently published 10 Year Drug Strategy for England and Wales (published in December 2021), which sets out the Government’s three-pronged approach to drugs: to break drug supply chains, improve treatment and rehabilitation, and reduce demand for drugs. 

Chair's comments

Launching the inquiry, Chair of the Home Affairs Committee Dame Diana Johnson said:

“Illegal drugs can have a devastating impact on people’s lives. This isn’t just the harm that individuals can do to themselves by taking them, but the wider consequences  for families, devastated communities and the serious criminal behaviour involved in the drug trade.

We have launched this inquiry to understand the impact of current legislation and Government policy in addressing the negative consequences of drug taking in the UK. It will look at whether drugs policy reflects the reality of drug use in the 21st Century and its impact on wider society. First and foremost we want to see how well we are supporting those who are struggling with drug addiction and understand what more can be done to support them. We also want to see if efforts to combat the trade in illegal drugs have been successful and look at what has worked well in other countries.”

Terms of reference

The Committee invites evidence on the below questions. Submissions do not need to address every question.

Find out how to submit evidence here. The deadline for submissions is 12 noon on Thursday 24 March 2022.

The UK drug framework

  • How effective is the UK drug framework in today’s society? This may consider:
    • its effectiveness in dealing with drug use and addiction;
    • its effectiveness in preventing drug related deaths;
    • its effectiveness in deterring drug related offending;
    • drugs classification under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971; and
    • what (if any) impact the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 has had since it came into force.
  • Does the current framework, or a particular aspect of the framework, need to be reformed?
    • If so, how?
    • Could reform align with the UK’s international obligations under the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961, as amended by the 1972 Protocol; the Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1971; and the United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances of 1988?
  • Should a ‘right to recovery’ (the right of a person dependent on drugs to seek drug treatment and services) be legally enshrined in UK law?

 UK drug policy

  • What are the trends and patterns in drug use across the four UK nations? Responses to this may speak to some or all of the nations. 
  • What is your view on the UK Government’s 10-Year Drug Strategy published in December 2021?
  • Are there particular policies at national or local level across the four UK nations that have been effective in reducing:
    • drug use,
    • drug related deaths, and/or
    • drug related offending?

The impact of drug use in the UK

  •  What is the impact of drug use? In particular, on:
    • drug users and their loved ones;
    • local communities and wider society;
    • the economy.

 International comparisons

  • Are there laws, policies or approaches adopted in other countries that have been effective in reducing:
    • drug use,
    • drug related deaths, and/or
    • drug related offending?
  • If so, could they reasonably be expected to work in the UK?

Signposting 

We understand that the issues raised in this work may be sensitive or upsetting. If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this inquiry, you may wish to contact your GP or the following organisations: 

Adfam For local support groups in England, Scotland and Wales and helpful information online for families affected by drugs and alcohol

Frank National Drugs Helpline Call 0300 123 6600 for confidential advice, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week 

Drugs and Alcohol NI Services directory – information on drug and alcohol treatment and support services available across Northern Ireland. 

Samaritans  Support and guidance for everyone.  Call: 116 123 - 24 hours a day, every day or Email jo@samaritans.org 

Mind For information, advice, and support for anyone experiencing a mental health problem. Call: 0300 123 3393 

Mind have information for people experiencing problems with drugs and a list of organisations offering support.  

Further information

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