About 150 members of the public attended the drugs debate organised by the Conservative MP for Hove Mike Weatherley today (Friday 30 September).
Mr Weatherley brought 20 experts together to Hove Town Hall to address the question: “Are drug deaths avoidable?”
The local experts included from Chief Superintendent Graham Bartlett, from Sussex Police, Andy Winter, chief executive of Brighton Housing Trust, and Dr Tom Scanlon, director of public health.
Academic contributors included Professor John Strang, director of the Addiction Research Unit, and Professor Peter Squires, from Brighton University.
And Dr David Keating, from the Priory Hospital in Hove, and Deirdre Boyd, editor of Addiction Today, also spoke.
Caroline Lucas, the Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, was among those in the audience and was among many people to question the experts.
Mr Weatherley said: “Since being elected I have become increasingly concerned about the high rate locally of drug-related deaths.
“There must be a solution. We have excellent multi-disciplinary professionals in this city to help individuals and communities to diminish and even eradicate drug-related deaths.
“Today there is a great deal of rhetoric about the ‘war on drugs’ which costs billions and returns minimal change at the level of communities.
“Drugs are still available. Maybe we are approaching this major problem from the wrong angle.
“The Royal Society of Arts said in a very large piece of research from 2007 that ‘the law is not cost-effective. Prosecuting and imprisoning large numbers of drug users and spending large amounts of money on mostly unsuccessful attempts to stop trafficking is a waste of public money that could be better invested in harm reduction, prevention and treatment.’
“There are differing views on how to manage substance abuse – with many and varied ideologies and legislative tools – but unless we bring these differing thoughts into the open, listen to those in our communities who know first-hand what it is like suffer from addictions and hardship, a change for the better is unlikely to emerge.”
He urged people to “dispense with the emotional response” and added: “I want to thank all of the speakers who took part in the debate as well as my constituents and other members of the public who took the trouble to attend.
“The debate has raised some very important issues surrounding drugs in the city as well as national policy.
“This is a controversial subject and as a Member of Parliament I have a responsibility to lead on this issue.
“Indeed, I will be raising many of the issues that were discussed today in Parliament in the future.
“Residents have been coming up to me all day to thank me for holding this debate.
“Drugs have an effect on everyone in some way or another and for too long the discussion has not been heard in public.
“I am grateful that so many leading figures were happy to take part.”