A different approach to drugs policy
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (David Hanson) on securing this important debate.
In the short time that I have, I want to make a particular appeal to the Minister. The approach to these new psychoactive substances unfortunately is repeating the same failed drugs policy that we generally apply. I am quite saddened, having taken part in a number of these debates, and having served on the Psychoactive Substances Bill Committee, that the Government seem to ignore pleas to pilot evidence-based harm reduction treatment programmes, which I believe have been advocated by right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House. We need to look at this issue. If we continue to criminalise users, rather than treating addicts and referring them to a public health programme dealing with a public health issue, we risk repeating the same mistakes over and over.
I thank Chris Hicks and the eight leading UK drugs policy organisations for kindly including me in their correspondence to Amanda Healy, who is the director of public health for Durham. I share their concerns about the alarmingly high rate of drug-related deaths in my area, and the increased use of psychoactive substances, particularly spice.
The debate focuses on psychoactive substances, but it is important to recognise that in 2016, there were 3,744 drug-related deaths in the United Kingdom. That is the highest number since records began in 1993. The national drug death average is 44 deaths per million. In the north-east, that figure is 77 deaths per million. We have a large and growing problem that we need to address as a public health crisis. We need to ensure that we have the correct investment in education, health, and health interventions. We need to try to ensure a co-ordinated approach.
The figures stack up. The cost to the public purse through the involvement of the police and social services and other costs is £65,000; by comparison, a treatment programme is about £15,000. Those figures were given to me by my local police and crime commissioner. I appeal to the Minister to look at the evidence on public health interventions, and at running a pilot scheme somewhere in the country where there is support for such an initiative. I am sure he would have tremendous support for such an approach.