By Karolina Wilgus
Since 1971, The Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA) has yielded suffering, halted life-saving research, and put overwhelming pressure on social and healthcare services.
On Monday the 12th of December, Drug Science community gathered to mourn half a century of its rule and celebrate the launch of the book ‘Drug Policy & British Drug Policy’. The authors joined us for an evening of panel discussions on the MDA, and, most importantly, on what can be done to bring a stop to ill-judged UK drug control.
The act was supposed to fight drug addiction and drug-related crime. Instead, it did the exact opposite. Our panel of experts explained: competition over the illegal supply led to increasing gang violence; the lack of a regulated market led to the development of new, more toxic alternatives to street drugs. Alongside her research, Professor Val Curran asked drug consumers to bring a sample of their supply to her lab for a quality check; a street cannabis sample she tested contained twice the natural amount of THC, vastly increasing this drug’s potential to cause harm.
People who are addicted are left with no choice but to use whatever is available to them which, in an unregulated market, will likely cause damage to their bodies and minds. Most detrimentally, however, they are left on their own, scared to ask for help due to the legal and social consequences; it can be the stigma, rather than simply the drugs themselves, that pose a threat to an individual, their families, their employment or education.
They are not to blame for ending up in such a vulnerable state. As Niamh Eastwood from Release pointed out, we legally give diamorphine to patients every day for physical pain, but what about emotional pain? Drugs are often the only way to alleviate years of psychological trauma, and current laws ignore that, contributing to over 100 overdose deaths per week in the UK.
“Syringes and foil are a good start, but there’s so much more we could be doing,” said Roz Gittins, clinical pharmacist and Drug Science Scientific Committee member. Sometimes the only way is to facilitate drug taking , but do this with safe equipment and in a safe environment. The evidence clearly shows harm reduction is effective, yet, due to drug scheduling under UK law, even qualified people can’t be in possession of the necessary substances.
It is politics over evidence; fake moralism over empathy; judgment over understanding. The war on drugs is in fact a war on people – people who always have and always will consume drugs. And, as confirmed by scientific research, the differentiation between legal and illegal drugs is not guided by logic. Unfortunately, it currently feels like logic is not what our authorities want to hear.
Steve Rolles from Transform Drug Policy argued that, in our current situation, it is only civil society that can influence change. We hear stories such as Cara Lavan’s, representing ‘Anyone’s Child’, providing much-needed real faces and emotional pleas to counteract the heartless policies to which their relatives have fallen victim. The good news is that these real life stories do work: the passionate crowd we saw at the book launch showed that this community is indeed unstoppable and will not rest until we are heard and listened to. So thank you for being a part of Drug Science, because together we can make this happen.