FOR those affected by drug addiction it is bound to prompt a debate.

The issue of decriminalising drug use is explored in the new UK-wide report ‘Taking a New Line on Drugs’ which has already received the backing of several charities and law enforcement officials.

The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) and the Faculty for Public Health (FPH) said the personal possession and use of all illegal drugs should no longer be considered a criminal offence.

While the bodies still support criminal charges for people who deal drugs, they said users should instead be referred for treatment and help.

The report calls for evidence-based drugs education for young people in schools as part of personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education.

It also said the responsibility for a drugs strategy should be moved from the Home Office to the Department for Health.

Criminalising users leads to long-term harm such as greater exposure to drugs in prison, it argued. Furthermore, family relationships are severely harmed and people face exclusion from education and employment.

Liam Knights, who battled with drug addiction for five years, welcomes the idea.

“I think decriminalisation is a good idea because addiction is more an illness than a crime. A lot of people don’t actually choose to take drugs (apart from at the beginning obviously), and to treat them as such isn’t beneficial to anybody.

“If the police catch somebody with drugs and confiscate them it doesn’t mean they will just go without drugs that day - they will just go and buy more, and if they don’t have the money for it then they are likely to commit a crime in order to fund it. Either way it just means more money to the supplier because they’ve ended up selling twice as much as they would have.”

Liam, who has now turned his life around and is studying for a degree, believes decriminalising personal possession would free up resources and cut costs allowing the police to pursue the suppliers and enable those who are addicted to receive the treatment they need without fear of being prosecuted. “It is hard to go for help sometimes and to be open and honest about your problems when you know that you are at risk of being prosecuted,” says Liam.

He says it would also help those who, despite turning their lives around and conquering their addiction, are left with a criminal record for possession which may impact on seeking future employment.

Jon Royle, chief executive of the Bradford drug treatment charity, Bridge, says: “Decriminalisation, legalisation and prohibition of drugs is a debate that’s swung backwards and forwards and has often been heavily influenced by prejudice, ideology and lobby groups with vested interests. This latest report adds weight to the public health argument that criminalising drug users for personal use and possession has stigmatised many vulnerable people and prevented them from accessing the treatment and the healthcare they need. At the same time it will be continue to be argued that there are wider societal and cultural issues to be considered if we take a radically different approach to tackling the drug problem. We need to see a national drug strategy that cuts through these arguments and takes a bold approach based on the best available science and evidence.”

Detective Chief Inspector Warren Stevenson, of West Yorkshire Police, said: “The current legislation allows the police and criminal justice system to understand the full circumstances of drug use attributed to each incident.

“It also means that decisions can be made so assistance can be sought from partner agencies where necessary.”

Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the RSPH, said:

“On many levels, in terms of the public’s health, the ‘war on drugs’ has failed.”

She says a new approach recognising that drug use is a health issue, not a criminal justice issue, is required with treatment and support for those who misuse drugs.

Professor John Middleton, president of the FPH, says possession and use should be decriminalised and health approaches prioritised.

A Home Office spokesman said: “The UK’s approach on drugs remains clear - we must prevent drug use in our communities and support people dependent on drugs through treatment and recovery.

“At the same time, we have to stop the supply of illegal drugs and tackle the organised crime behind the drugs trade.”

He said there had been a drop in drug misuse over the last decade and more people are recovering from dependency now than in 2009/10.