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UK drug policy must have stronger health focus

BMA report emphasises that people addicted to drugs have a medical problem

Ingrid Torjesen

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

UK drugs policy should have a stronger health focus to help reduce the harm caused by illegal drug use, according to a report published by the BMA today.

‘Drugs of dependence – The role of medical professionals’, has been produced by the BMA’s Board of Science to explore what can be done to reduce the damage caused by addiction to illegal drugs. 

The report states that individuals who are addicted to illegal drugs have a medical condition which should be treated like any other illness. It acknowledges that UK drug policies are beginning to incorporate wider social and economic factors, but says that the focus on health remains inadequate. As a result drug users may be discouraged from approaching drug services, contacting paramedics in emergency situations, or volunteering accurate or complete information to health professionals, because they fear that policies are mainly focused on criminal justice.

The report collates and analyses the evidence relating to drug dependency, including the scale of the problem, treatment and medical management, the development of UK drug policy over time, including the legal framework underpinning the current approach, and the role of healthcare professionals in tackling the problem. It concludes that drug dependency is a medical condition as well as a legal problem and that alternatives to the current approach to UK drug policy should have health at the centre of the debate.

Professor Averil Mansfield, chairman of the BMA’s Board of Science, said: “The BMA believes that drug users are patients first. That’s why we want health to be at the heart of the debate about drugs policy. We fear that too great a focus on criminalisation is deterring drug users from seeking medical help.

“While the medical profession would never condone illegal drug taking, we believe that we should show understanding of the illness of drug addiction and respond in the way that we would with any other medical problem.

“We welcome the downward trend in drug use, but it is extremely worrying that long-term problem drug use and drug related deaths are not decreasing.”

Drug addiction is an extremely complex issue and genetic make-up and social circumstances play a fundamental role, says the report.

Professor Mansfield added: “Effective drug policy should take account of the complex biological, psychological and social factors involved in illegal drug use. It is also vital that medical training should provide doctors with the basic knowledge about these factors to help clinicians identify patients at risk.”

How would qualify the communication between primary and secondary care services? (See OnMedica News 20/04)

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