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Readers Panel: Should we decriminalise illegal drug use?

Should personal use of illegal drugs be decriminalised? We ask our readers panel

Beverley Brathwaite, senior lecturer in adult nursing, University of Hertfordshire
Beverley Brathwaite
Beverley Brathwaite

Two of Britain’s leading public health organisations – the Royal Society for Public Health and the Faculty of Public Health – have called for the personal possession and use of all illegal drugs to be decriminalised. As healthcare professionals we have to help patients navigate to a place free of drug addiction. Would this be easier if the fear of prosecution was lifted and funding focused instead on education and rehabilitation? The government should take a long hard look at the evidence and consider trying another way.


Rachel Kent, mental health nurse, Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust, London
Rachel Kent
Rachel Kent

I was once told that people take drugs ‘because they work’. We are quick to judge, but drugs address a need. Use of illegal drugs should be decriminalised and the user helped to address what pain or gap in their lives the drug was filling. Otherwise that person will just revolve through the criminal and substance misuse systems. But drug dealers should continue to be prosecuted for taking advantage of vulnerable people.


Linda Drake, practice nurse, south London
Linda Drake
Linda Drake

The ‘war on drugs’ is being lost. It seems perverse to penalise those at the end of the supply chain, whose lives are ruined by their addiction. Criminalisation pushes many who are already on the fringes of society into a life of crime or prostitution. Their plight should be addressed by programmes of treatment and support.

However, any new approach that seeks to redefine drug misuse as a health issue rather than one of criminality should be evidence-based and underpinned by robust education.


Daniel Athey, charge nurse, University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust
Daniel Athey
Daniel Athey

It is important to differentiate between decriminalising and legalising. People are always going to take drugs – the current system largely just forces users to do so in secret. The purpose of decriminalising drugs is to allow better regulation and easier access to help and support. In Portugal, decriminalising the possession and use of small amounts of drugs has reduced drug-related deaths to almost zero. Bringing drug use out into the open saves lives.

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