Health and Social Care Committee calls for ‘radical change’ to UK drugs policy

This week the Health and Social Care Committee published a report following its inquiry into UK drugs policy, for which The Hepatitis C Trust submitted written evidence. The report is highly critical of the effectiveness of UK drugs policy in preventing drug-related deaths, which it says have risen to the scale of being a public health emergency, and recommends ‘radical’ policy change ‘without delay’.

The Committee’s recommendations have repercussions for people living with hepatitis C; it is the most common blood-borne virus for people who inject drugs and around half of this group are estimated to have been infected at some point. The primary transmission route of hepatitis C is the sharing of drug-taking equipment, and with almost a fifth of people who inject drugs reporting sharing needles there is an urgent need to boost harm reduction strategies in the UK.

The report recommends:

  • Moving the responsibility for drugs policy from the Home Office to the Department of Health and Social Care;
  • Significant direct investment into drug treatment services which have seen budget cuts of 27% in the last three years in the face of rising costs;
  • The introduction of drug consumption rooms on a pilot basis, which would allow people to use illicit drugs obtained themselves under medical supervision;
  • A review into the commissioning of drug treatment services looking at whether improvements should be made to the current localised model or whether a national agency should be established to oversee commissioning;
  • The re-establishment of a central drugs policy agency to fund and direct drug treatment services and coordinate the multiple strands to drugs policy;
  • A consultation on decriminalising drug possession for personal use by changing it from a criminal offence to a civil matter.

Our CEO Rachel Halford said, “People who inject drugs are those most affected by the hepatitis C epidemic, so it is essential that they are engaged with, tested, and supported to complete treatment. We are glad the Health and Social Care Committee has taken The Hepatitis C Trust’s advice on board and has recommended moving away from a criminal justice approach to drugs towards a health-focused and harm reduction approach. International evidence has shown that this can save lives as well as reduce the cost and burden on criminal justice systems.

“The UK’s drugs policy plays a crucial role in ensuring the UK meets its commitment to eliminate hepatitis C by 2030 at the latest. We need substance misuse services to be able to provide needle exchange programmes, harm reduction advice, and blood-borne virus testing if we are to reduce health inequalities and successfully tackle hepatitis C as a significant public health concern.”