‘Taking a New Line on Drugs’ assesses the situation in the UK as regards rising health harm from illegal drugs, with reference to their context within the wider ‘drugscape’ of legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco, and sets out a new vision for a holistic public health-led approach to drugs policy at a UK-wide level.

From a public health perspective, the purpose of a good drugs strategy should be to improve and protect the public’s health and wellbeing by preventing and reducing the harm linked to substance use, whilst also balancing any potential medicinal benefits.

RSPH is calling for the UK to consider exploring, trialling and testing such an approach, rather than one reliant on the criminal justice system.

Key recommendations

  • Transferring lead responsibility for UK illegal drugs strategy to the Department of Health, and more closely aligning this with alcohol and tobacco strategies.
  • Preventing drug harm through universal Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education in UK schools, with evidence-based drugs education as a mandatory, key component.
  • Creating evidence-based drug harm profiles to supplant the existing classification system in informing drug strategy, enforcement priorities, and public health messaging.
  • Decriminalising personal use and possession of all illegal drugs, and diverting those whose use is problematic into appropriate support and treatment services instead, recognising that criminalising users most often only opens up the risk of further harm to health and wellbeing. Dealers, suppliers and importers of illegal substances would still be actively pursued and prosecuted, while evidence relating to any potential benefits or harm from legal, regulated supply should be kept under review.
  • Tapping into the potential of the wider public health workforce to support individuals to reduce and recover from drug harm.

UK drugs policy 

We went to Liverpool to find out what people thought about existing drugs policy, and challenged them to guess which anonymous substance should be legal, illegal, prescribed or made available on legal premises or pharmacies.