Despite the long-standing political prominence of the problem, relatively coherent strategies and substantial investment, the United Kingdom remains at the top of the European ladder for drug use and drug dependence. This study by Professor Peter Reuter of the University of Maryland, USA, and Alex Stevens of the University of Kent, England, assesses the evidence relating to the UK drug problem and analyses the impact of current policies.
The key findings include that:
- There is little evidence from the UK, or any other country, that drug policy inﬂuences either the number of drug users or the share of users who are dependent. There are numerous other cultural and social factors that appear to be more important.
- Given the international evidence as to the limited ability of drug policy to inﬂuence national trends in drug use and drug dependence, it is unreasonable to judge the performance of a country’s drug policy by the levels of drug use in that country. Yet that is the indicator to which the media and public instinctively turn. However, this is not to say that drug policy is irrelevant.
- The arena where government drug policy needs to focus further effort and where it can make an impact is in reducing the levels of drug-related harms through the expansion of and innovation in treatment and harm reduction services.
- We know very little about the effectiveness and impact of most enforcement efforts, whether they are directed at reducing the availability of drugs or at enforcing the law over possession and supply. Imprisoning drug offenders for relatively substantial periods does not appear to represent a cost effective response.
- Transparency in resource allocations is urgently needed if the overall and relative balance of supply and demand reduction interventions is to be considered.
- The UK invests remarkably little in independent evaluation of the impact of drug policies, especially enforcement. This needs redressing if policy makers are to be able to identify and introduce effective measures in the future.