West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner calls for drugs harm reduction

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West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson has announced a set of practical proposals to tackle the cost of drugs to public services, reduce drug related crime and the shocking number of deaths in the region.

The Commissioner's proposals include:

  • Establishing a formal scheme to divert those suffering from addiction into treatment and away from the courts.
  • Joining-up police, community safety and public health funding streams to increase efficiency and improve outcomes for those suffering from addiction.
  • Prescribing heroin in a medical setting to people suffering from addiction who have not responded to other forms of treatment. This will take the market away from organised criminals and stop people stealing to fund their addiction. Work with the Home Office, who have championed the benefits of Heroin Assisted Treatment.
  • Equipping and training police officers in the application of naloxone – a medication that can be used to help those overdosing.
  • Establishing a Drug Early Warning Programme, to make the public, outreach workers and medical professionals aware of the impact of emerging drugs. The aim is to reduce the number of deaths.
  • Introducing on-site testing in night-time economy areas to reduce the number of deaths and increase the authorities' intelligence of drugs in circulation.
  • Considering the benefits of Drug Consumption Rooms to assess if they would add value to current services in the West Midlands. Drug Consumption Rooms allow people suffering from addiction to access clean equipment, medical support and drug treatment services.
  • Ensuring more money is seized from large-scale organised criminal gangs, profiting from the misery of the drugs trade. The extra money will be invested in drug treatment programmes.

The proposals follow a detailed report already published by the Commissioner on the cost of drugs to the West Midlands. It estimated that the cost of substance misuse in the West Midlands is £1.4 billion each year. Half of all burglary, theft, shoplifting and robbery is committed by people suffering from serious addiction to drugs including heroin and crack cocaine. Every three days in the West Midlands, somebody dies from drug poisoning, while organised criminals are profiting from this misery.

There has also been a consultation and wide-ranging summit that brought top politicians, health professionals and drugs experts together to find new ways of tackling the problem of drugs in the West Midlands.

Speaking about his proposals to tackle the scourge of drugs, West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson, said, "Despite the good work being done by many, collectively our approach to drugs is failing. Drugs are costing the West Midlands £1.4 billion each year.

"It means people are forced to live with more crime, public services are put under strain and not enough is done to reduce the suffering of those who are addicted. If we are to cut crime and save lives there's one thing we can all agree on; we need fresh ideas.

"These are bold, but practical proposals that will reduce crime, the cost to the public purse and the terrible harm caused by drugs. These proposals tackle the drugs market head on, hitting the organised criminals profiting from the misery of others.

"By the end of my term of office in 2020, I hope many of these proposals are in place and having an effect – reducing crime, but also the suffering of those addicted to drugs. These proposals will save the public sector money by reducing the strain on services that currently exists.

"I will be working with partner organisations intensively over the coming period to deliver on these practical and common-sense proposals."

Shirley Cramer, Chief Executive, Royal Society for Public Health, said, "These recommendations from the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner are an important and welcome contribution to the growing momentum behind common sense drug policy reform in the UK. Health professionals, police, and the public are all agreed that a public health – rather than criminal justice – approach to drug policy is what is needed to tackle rising rates of drug harm in this country and beyond.

"We know that diverting people suffering as a result of harmful substance use away from the criminal justice system and into treatment leads to better outcomes for the individual and for society, and we know that pragmatic harm reduction interventions such as drug consumption rooms, heroin assisted treatment and drug safety testing can play an extremely helpful role in that process. It is heartening to hear more influential voices, with on the ground experience of these issues, give these measures their backing."

Welcoming the endorsement of the Royal Society for Public Health, Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson, said, "I will be working tirelessly over the coming months to build coalitions to get these proposals into action.

"Drug use and dependence should first and foremost be treated as a health issue. We should be tackling the root causes of crime, rather than just react to criminality that follows.

"We currently have an approach that is soft on the big-time criminals who are profiting from the misery of others and weak on giving people the support they need to recover from addiction.

"I am determined to reverse that. My proposals will take the market away from the organised gangs and ensure that those who need support to recover get it."

Niamh Eastwood, executive director of Release, the national centre of expertise on drugs and drugs law said, “The West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner’s recommendations for reducing the harms of drugs are based on evidence and would undoubtedly save lives if implemented.

“Diversion schemes for possession of drugs have been successfully implemented by both Durham and Bristol police forces, with both areas reporting reduced reoffending for people who are diverted away from the criminal justice system.  Prosecuting people for drug possession causes unnecessary suffering, creating negative outcomes in terms of employment and education, and negatively impacting on people’s relationships with family.  We welcome the WMPCC’s call to divert people who use drugs away from the criminal justice system. By offering treatment or education instead of criminalisation, diversion schemes improve outcomes for people who use drugs, and for the communities in which they live.

“The WMPCC’s call for a consideration of drug consumption rooms (DCRs) is rooted in evidence and must be welcomed. By providing a safe and sterile place for people to use drugs, DCRs can save lives, provide treatment access, reduce strain on emergency services, and make the streets safer for everyone. DCRs are already saving lives in eight European countries, Canada, and Australia, and have been endorsed by the British Medical Association. Opioid-related deaths are now at a record high in the UK, and DCRs can help put a stop to this crisis. No one has ever died from an overdose in a DCR, anywhere in the world.

“Lives could also be saved by implementing the WMPCC’s call for increased access to overdose-reversal medication naloxone. Local authorities in the West Midlands, especially those in Solihull and Sandwell, are abjectly failing to provide enough take-home naloxone to people who need it – as Release’s research has shown. This failure is leading to needless deaths that could be easily prevented with naloxone, a cheap medicine which has no potential for misuse and can be administered by anyone.

Yet again, the police are leading the way in the debate for drug policy reform while the Government continues to pursue the failed approach of prohibition and criminalisation. The Government must consider the insight of police officers, many of whom are on the frontline of the so-called war on drugs, witnessing the horrific impacts that prohibition has on communities every day.

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