During September two of our local Members of Parliament, Caroline Lucas (Brighton Pavilion) and Mike Weatherley (Hove), had the courage to organise debates on a major issue facing Brighton and Hove: drugs. I say courage since drugs is an issue that many politicians will shy away from.
The two events were quite different, one behind closed doors with senior officers from statutory and third sector agencies, the other in public. I am grateful to both Caroline and Mike for the invitations to speak at both events.
The topics under discussion ranged from health and social care to decriminalisation and legalisation. If I may offer one criticism of both events, the subjects under discussion were too wide-ranging. To do justice to each topic, they should have been considered at different meetings, health and social care at one, decriminalisation and legalisation at another, rather than all issues being discussed at both meetings.
While Caroline and Mike are not often found lining up together, they are both to be applauded for their separate initiatives in addressing the reasons for Brighton and Hove’s high rate of drug-related deaths. They work together through the All Party Group on Drug Reform.
I remain firmly of the view that there needs to be a move away from a medical approach (as opposed to a health and social care approach) when dealing with drug addiction.
A medical intervention is important in stabilising individuals and then detoxing them quickly and with as little discomfort as possible. After that there is little need for any medical involvement (unless there is a co-existing yet separate medical condition). After that social care, housing and self-help interventions should take over aimed at helping clients to become independent and to sustain a drug-free lifestyle.
I am not a supporter of decriminalisation, and a strong opponent of legalisation. I have always felt that helping addicts achieve and maintain abstinence is the best form of harm minimisation and removes the need for criminal activity.
What the impact will be of the events organised by Caroline Lucas and Mike Weatherley is unknown. I know what I want to see: all local agencies, and all their staff, championing abstinence, and I hope to hear fewer people writing off the potential of all addicts with comments such as “abstinence is not for everyone”. My advice to them is it’s not your place to say that.