Drugs act 'is not working', congress told

Current policies mean 'vulnerable people miss out on help', says student

Legislation aimed at tackling drug misuse is ‘out of date’ and ‘unfit for purpose’, according to the nurses struggling to treat those with addictions.

RCN Lothian branch member Geoff Earl began his submission for discussion by quoting former UN secretary general Kofi Annan who said: ‘I believe that drugs have destroyed many lives, but wrong government policies have destroyed many more.’

Drugs act needs replacing, according to Geoff Earl. Picture: John Houlihan

He went on to claim the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA) 1971 was a ‘big stick’ of punishment that needed to be replaced by education and treatment.

He added the rise in so-called legal highs was ‘extremely worrying’ and championed the example set by Portugal where people found in possession of drugs are taken to health workers not prisons.

He claimed this resulted in 90% of people quitting drugs of their own accord and gave the country a drug death rate of 3 per million people compared with the UK’s 50 per million.

Nursing student Stephanie Morris, from Bangor University, is researching homelessness and said current drugs policies were ‘deterring vulnerable people from seeking help’ from shelters as they fear being punished for having drugs on them.

Vulnerable people are missing out on help, said Stephanie Morris. Picture: John Houlihan 

Making her maiden speech to RCN congress today, she added: ‘The time to review existing policies is now.’

Member Adrian Brown said the fact there were 1,000 addicts when the MDA was introduced and in 2011 there were 300,000 was ‘proof it hasn’t worked’.

Drug use

A Home Office report of 2015 revealed 1 in 12 (8.6%) of adults in the UK aged 16-59 had taken an illicit drug in the past year as had 1 in 5 (19.4%) of young adults aged 16-24.

South Yorkshire branch member and mental health liaison nurse Paul Smith added: ‘Are we more bothered about the health and wellbeing of people who misuse drugs and their families, or sitting in judgement on people with a medical problem?’

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