Brighton Pavilion Green MP Caroline Lucas is due to call for an end to the war on drugs in a speech to health professionals this evening.
She believes that decriminalising personal drug use would be the best way to tackle Brighton’s reputation as the drug death capital of Britain.
Dr Lucas plans to tell her audience in Brighton that addicts should be given treatment not a criminal record.
And she said that the senior Sussex Police officer in Brighton and Hove, Chief Superintendent Graham Bartlett, supported her demand for the decriminalisation of personal drug use
Dr Lucas wants to see an evidence-based approach to tackle Brighton’s and Britain’s drug crisis, reducing the number of drug-related deaths and keeping the community safer.
At the Audrey Emerton Building in Eastern Road, Kemp Town, this evening she is expected to tell doctors and nurses who have expertise in dealing with addicts: “There is growing agreement across the scientific and political communities, in the police and the legal professions.
“We need to move away from prohibition of use towards an evidence-based public health approach to drug addiction.
“One of my top priorities as a local MP is to tackle Brighton and Hove’s very sad reputation as the drugs death capital of the UK.
“To do that, we need to recognise the reality that the so-called ‘war on drugs’ has failed – and start dealing with drugs differently.
“Here in this city, we understand more than most the consequences of a national drugs policy that has failed our citizens and our communities.
“Having seen the commitment locally to successful evidence-based treatment and support programmes, I think we are also well placed to start shaping an alternative approach – one that works.”
Dr Lucas, a member of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy Reform, said that she plans to call a high-level meeting in the city this year.
Her aim is to bring together medical experts, police and council representatives to help develop an alternative approach.
She believes that Brighton could set a positive example for other cities struggling with high levels of drug misuse by shaping a different approach.
She said that such an approach would build on successful initiatives that are already happening here such as the successful randomised injecting opioid treatment trials – known as RIOTT.
This, she said, demonstrated that previously unresponsive patients could achieve significant reductions in their use of street heroin.
She cited support from Chief Superintendent Bartlett, the Brighton and Hove district commander.
He said: “My officers will continue to enforce the law as it stands.
“However, my personal view is that while production, supply and trafficking are and should remain crimes, the use of drugs is not well addressed through punitive measures.
“Providing people with treatment not only resolves their addiction – thereby minimising risk of overdose, drug-related health issues, anti-social behaviour and dependence on the state, for example – but cuts the cost to the community by reduced offending.”
Dr Lucas added: “We have some excellent practice in the city in dealing with drug addiction both from the third sector and from interventions like Operation Reduction, run by the local police.
“Over the coming months, I want to work closely with key agencies, healthcare professionals and community groups to explore ways for us to make a change for the better.
“I want to hear from local people about whether the city’s services are currently equipped to best reduce drug-related harms – and how they could be improved.
“One area I should like to explore is extending the provision of naloxone, used to counter the effects of heroin or morphine overdose, to all prisoners leaving prison with a history of addiction.
“Pilot programmes in Scotland and Wales are already showing positive results in terms of lives saved.”
She called for an urgent review of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.
She said that a cost-benefit analysis should compare the act’s effectiveness in reducing the societal, economic and health costs of drug misuse with an alternative approach based on treating drug addiction as a health issue, not a criminal one.
“In this age of austerity,” she said, “when we are told that every penny of public spending must be justified, nobody is checking whether the war on drugs is value for money or money and effort wasted.
“I don’t think it will be easy.
“A new approach, based on treating drug addiction as a health issue not a criminal one, will represent a significant shift in thinking – and any changes should be brought in slowly and carefully.
“But in the long term a more evidence-based drugs policy will help us to prevent crime and protect our communities from the worst effects of drug abuse.”