Drug use and dependence is a very complex area, which impacts in different ways on many people and has ramifications throughout society. It is also a particularly controversial area. There is a range of new challenges facing drug policy, including the rapid development of new drugs and new routes of supply, which require responses. However, it is difficult to discuss even the possibility of new approaches and it increasingly appears from the range of people who call for reform on leaving office that those involved in drug policy making are not satisfied with, or helped by, the architecture within which they work.
This study of drug policy governance or how drug policy is made, involved a wide range of people including current and former ministers, parliamentarians, senior civil servants, practitioners, think-tanks, advocacy bodies and academics. It has identified the important issues for good governance, where the system seems to be going wrong, and options for improving the way policy is made. Everyone has an interest in improving the way we make policy so that its impact can be maximised.
A number of cross-cutting themes emerged from the review including ones that facilitate effective policymaking, as well as deficits in: leadership, organisational structures and processes; knowledge development and application; accountability; and stakeholder engagement.
In a rapidly changing world it is essential that policy is able to change in response to new challenges and learn from evidence of what is and is not working, which may also change over time. We should also be able to learn and be inspired by developments in other countries. It is very clear from this review that there is no single correct way of making policy and also that no structures and processes can guarantee that a policy will be successful. However, it is possible to identify some characteristics that appear to make good outcomes more likely. We have identified some areas where we believe adopting new processes or structures could help to increase the effectiveness of drug policy and reduce the harms experienced as a result of drug use and dependence. It would help stabilise the policymaking process and make it more consistent, reliable and cost-effective.
The background reports for the research are available below: