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FPH urges UN General Assembly to adopt evidence based illicit drugs policy

This week's Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly on the World Drug Problem has the potential to be a historic landmark in tackling the health, social and economic harms of illicit drugs.

The Faculty of Public Health (FPH) has today written to the UN to outline its support of the UN Economic and Social Council’s recent reiteration of its commitment to evidence-based drugs policy.

We agree with the UN on the importance of measures including prevention, early intervention and social reintegration, as well as those aimed at minimising the adverse public health and social consequences of drug abuse.

FPH has made the following key recommendations to the United Nations General Assembly:


1. Illicit drug policy must be rooted in the most up-to-date scientific evidence-base. FPH endorses the recommendations of the Lancet Commission on Public Health and International Drug Policy.
2. There is an imbalance between criminal justice and health approaches to illicit drugs. Minor, non-violent drug offences eg. use, possession and petty sale should be decriminalised and health approaches prioritised.
3. Criminalisation and incarceration for minor, non-violent offences worsen problems linked to illicit drug use, eg. social inequality, violence and infection. Health and social-sector alternatives should be reinforced.
4. Drug harms operate across a socio-economic and ethnic gradient. Addressing economic and social
disadvantage is essential to addressing the root causes of addictions or addictive behaviours.
5. Illicit drug use worsens health inequalities and health-related harms, eg. through the stigma of a criminal record, violence, debt, social breakdown, infection risk.
6. A harm-reduction approach is fundamental to evidence-based outcomes. This includes (though not exclusively) non-time-limited opiate substitution therapy, needle and syringe exchange and Naloxone access.
7. ‘Recovery’ – reducing chaotic lifestyles and enabling educational, employment and housing opportunities – is important. However, the dominant concept of recovery as equating to abstinence is limiting.
8. Educational approaches for young people must be evidence-based, interactive and peer-led. High quality Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education should form part of school curriculums.
9. Investment in evidence-based drug service provision represents strong value for money. More research is required into the evidence-base for residential or community-based drug treatment.
10. Those planning local services must be well trained in high quality, evidence-based public health approaches, which should be a key component of local planning.
11. Partnership approaches between the health and social care, criminal justice and local community based sectors are essential, and local, national and regional responses must be fully integrated and coordinated.
12. More research and impact assessment of economic and social alternatives to current national and regional control and of enforcement mechanisms should be undertaken, and into evidence-based treatment.

Written: 20/04/2016 , last modified: 05/07/2016