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Reform organisations respond to new UK drug strategy

The UK Government has announced a decade long drug strategy that will see an increased focus on rehabilitation for drug users.

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Reform organisations respond to new UK drug strategy

The new UK drug strategy is aiming to reduce drug-related crime through the largest ever increase in funding. However, the strategy will also be imposing tougher consequences – including curfews and the removal of passports and drivers licences. 

The UK’s new drug strategy will inject a record £780m into rebuilding the drug treatment system as part of a plan to combat drug and alcohol misuse. The UK Government has stated that the strategy is designed to cut crime and reduce both the supply and demand for drugs by getting more people into treatment.

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The plan will invest £15m over three years for drug testing on arrest, £5m toward an innovation fund, and £9m towards the new “Tough Consequences” out of court disposals scheme. This scheme will see civil penalties imposed, such as fines, curfews, and the temporary removal of driving licences or passports.

The response to the announcement has been mixed – with positive responses to the plans regarding support for drug users, but concerns regarding the suggestion to remove passports and driving licences. 

UK non-profit drugs advisory committee, Drug Science, previously submitted evidence for the Dame Carol Black review on addiction treatment services which helped to shape the new strategy. The organisation responded to the plan, stating that it welcomes the Government accepting aspects of the review.

Speaking to Psychedelic Health, David Badcock, chief executive of Drug Science, commented: “We’re encouraged that the government recognises the importance of well-funded addiction treatment. That’s long overdue. But what this strategy doesn’t do is address the most fundamental issue of all.

“Quite simply, if we continue to only view drugs through a lens of ‘criminality’ we’ll get nowhere. Successive drug strategies have failed users and taxpayers for precisely this reason, and problems have become even more entrenched.

See also  Majority in favour of changing law to boost psilocybin research in UK

“So we urge the government to change its approach completely, and to adopt a rational, evidence-based approach of drug control. Stigmatising users helps nobody. Misinformation about the real harms of substances helps nobody. And what we need, instead, is drug policy based on healthcare, empathy and facts.

“It’s also vital that we remove the stigma of certain drugs for medical research purposes. Drugs like psilocybin could prove to be hugely beneficial for all kinds of therapeutic reasons. But if we continue to view these substances as inherently evil, dangerous or criminal – then we will never get to the truth.”

In its published response, Drug Science stated: “The major positive outcome appears to be a focus on the use of treatments rather than punishments to reduce drug use and harms. This suggests the government has at last caught up with the scientific community in understanding that addiction is a medical rather than a criminal issue and that criminalising drug users [as opposed to drug dealers] only perpetuates a cycle of use that drives more into drug dealing and hence more drug users.”

However, the organisation believes that abstinence-only approaches are worrying, as for most people “this approach comes with a greatly increased risk of death from accidental overdose when they relapse. So other policies must be pursued in parallel.”

See also  UK continues to delay on psilocybin rescheduling

Three of these parallel policies Drug Science has highlighted include: investment into research for new treatments to promote abstinence; the development and provision of new approaches to treatment; and, encouraging pilot programmes for safe injecting rooms which are proven to save lives.

The organisation gives psilocybin as an example as an alternative approach to treatment for tobacco and alcohol addiction, and MDMA or ketamine as an example for alcoholism. 

Drug Science stated: “Trials in opioid and cocaine addiction are now a priority and given the UK leads the world in this research, psychedelic addiction treatment studies should be commissioned here asap. Also as the controlled status of these drugs makes research unnecessarily complicated and difficult these should be rectified as recommended by Drug Science and the CDPRG.”

Read the full statement from Drug Science.

The Green Party Drug Policy Working Group has also responded to the announcement, stating is “both astonished and extremely concerned by the government’s new 10 year plan aimed at dealing with drug use in our society.”

It states: “We support the reinstatement of (some) funding for medical interventions for problematic drug use and the focus on public health – and would like to see these commitments go further.

“However, many of the initiatives listed are against evidence and will cause harm. Stigmatising a mythical corrupt middle-class drug user ignores the scientific evidence and goes against the principle of harm reduction.

“Proposals to remove passports and driving licenses from class A drug users are unevidenced and divisive; a show of ‘tough on drugs’ political theatre. We know from years of the failed “war of drugs” that criminalising drug use does not reduce use or improve health and wellbeing outcomes.”

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As part of the strategy, £300m will also be invested to crack down on illicit supply chains and criminal gangs profiting from the trade in unlicensed drugs, using funding to try and breakup county lines, which see the exploitation of young children across the country.

Drug policy reform group, Volteface, commented: “There is some slight confusion that Dame Black famously remarked that we cannot police our way out of the drugs crisis. 

“It is therefore dumbfounding as to why the government has placed such an emphasis on crime and policing. If the government wants to be tough on county lines, then it must address the conditions that enable young people (mostly boys) to fall into exploitation. 

“There must be a bigger focus on drug education and surrounding measures like reopening youth clubs and giving kids a better opportunity. It is no surprise that the bulk of those being exploited are from poorer backgrounds, and often have difficult family lives. The key benefit to the strategy is the emphasis on diversion, even if the government has decided to refer to such measures as “tough consequences”.”

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Calls for psilocybin access rights for UK cluster headache sufferers

Letter to Home Office ministers calls for the rescheduling of psilocybin.

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Calls for psilocybin access rights for UK cluster headaches sufferers

Backed by three top psychiatrists, 161 cluster headache sufferers in the UK have written an open letter to Home Office ministers Savid Javid and Kit Malthouse calling for politicians to reschedule psilocybin.

Cluster headache sufferers from ClusterBusters UK have said breaking the law pales in comparison to getting rid of the pain they live with. The organisation is the national branch of the global ClusterBusters organisation based in the US which works to improve the lives of cluster headache suffers.

In the open letter to Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Savid Javid, and Minister of State for Crime and Policing, Kit Malthouse, the 161 UK citizens call for the substance to be rescheduled from its Schedule 1 status in order to fight for symptom relief.

Cluster headaches are rare and debilitating neurological condition known as suicide headaches for their excruciating pain – currently untreatable with existing treatments. The condition affects 1 in 1000 people in the UK. 

Psilocybin has shown promise in treating the condition and the citizens highlight it can also address the mental health impacts that stem from it.

The letter, which was written by ClusterBusters’ Vice President, Ainslie Course, states: “Sadly, there are very few medications which offer any relief whatsoever, and those that do are short-lasting at best but many, many people living with Cluster Headache have been successful in treating our condition with sub-hallucinogenic doses of psilocybin. 

See also  Majority in favour of changing law to boost psilocybin research in UK

“Not only is this a way to treat the physical symptoms of our condition, but this medicine can also treat the associated mental ill health, that is the depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress related to knowing the excruciating pain will inevitably return.

“Psilocybin is helping hundreds of thousands of people to live a predominantly pain-free life with encouragingly long periods of remission. This medicine has saved my life and the lives of many others.”

Three top psychiatrists – President of the British Association for Psychopharmacology, Professor Allan Young, Wellcome Centre for Human Neuroimaging, Professor Karl Friston and Regius Professor of Psychiatry, Head of the Department of Psychological Medicine, King’s College, London, Professor Simon Weseley – have also written in support of the suggestion.

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They emphasise that psilocybin research can garner insights about the human brain: “When administered as a pharmacological challenge, changes in brain activity can be brought to light that inform our understanding of functional brain architectures and processing, advancing human knowledge and translational applications.” 

Due to its classification as a Schedule 1 substance, psilocybin research is off-limits to numerous UK higher education institutions and businesses, they say, as many of these institutions “do not have the economic and temporal resources to secure the necessary licences.”

The psychiatrists also highlight that psilocybin can be used as an adjunct psychotherapeutic agent to treat conditions such as anorexia nervosa, obesity, post-traumatic stress disorder and addictions to substances such as alcohol, cocaine and tobacco.

The two letters are part of the Conservative Drug Policy Reform Group’s (CDPRG) Psilocybin Access Rights campaign. Founder of the CDPRG, MP Crispin Blunt, held a meeting with Prime Minster Boris Johnson in May 2021 in which Johnson agreed the rescheduling of psilocybin into Schedule 2. However, there have been Home Office delays relating to a misinterpretation of existing legislation.

See also  UK continues to delay on psilocybin rescheduling

Blunt raised the question of rescheduling psilocybin in Parliament later in October, to which Johnson stated he would consider the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs’ (ACMD) advice on reducing barriers to research with controlled drugs, and would “get back to him as soon as possible”.

In their letter, the psychiatrists state: “The Government has confirmed that there has been no recent review of the evidence for psilocybin’s current scheduling,” calling for Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty to review the evidence that support rescheduling the substance.

“Having assessed the evidence and history of this legislation ourselves, we understand that there is not and has never been an evidential basis for psilocybin’s current scheduling, based as it is on the UN Single Convention on Psychotropic Substances 1971. This is strange given the emerging evidence of psilocybin’s therapeutic potential and clear neuroscience research utility.”

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Why Italy blocked the campaign on psychotropic substance cultivation

Legalizziamo! campaign coordinator Marco Perduca shares his thoughts on why Italy’s court has blocked the referendum.

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Why Italy blocked the campaign on psychotropic substance cultivation

Last week Italy’s Constitutional Court blocked the country’s campaign calling for the decriminalisation of psychotropic substance cultivation.

The motivation for not allowing the referendum to proceed is not yet clear and the campaign has been accused of being misleading, says campaign coordinator Marco Perduca. 

Despite handing in 630,000 verified signatures calling for a referendum, Italy’s Constitutional Court stated that the campaign will not trigger a referendum. The Legalizziamo! campaign group has said the decision is a win for the mafia and “the failure of a court that cannot guarantee Italians a constitutional right”.

The campaign aimed to modify the wording of “cultivation” in the Consolidated Law on the Discipline of Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances in Presidential Decree 309/1990. The court, however, stated that the campaign would force the country to violate its obligations to the UN regarding the prevention of drug trafficking.

Find out about the global coalition pushing for psilocybin rescheduling

Marco Perduca is co-founder and international co-ordinator Associazione Luca Coscioni and founder of Science for Democracy, the international platform promoted by the Luca Coscioni Association. He has been the coordinator for the Legalizziamo! campaign since 2015.

In a comment to Psychedelic Health, Marco Perduca, said: “The motivation of the decision of the Constitutional Court against the admissibility of our referendum has not been published yet so we can only respond to the words of Giuliano Amato the President of the Court uttered in his press conference on 16 February.

“We were accused of having submitted a referendum that was poorly drafted, with a misleading title and that the whole proposal was not in line with Italy’s obligation stemming from the ratification of the three UN Conventions.

“Mr Amato made reference to the website address on which we collected the signatures knowing quite well that that was the name of the political campaign to collect signatures but not the actual title of the question, which was decided in conjunction with the Cassation Court.

“Italy’s drugs law is very complicated to interpret but once you know your way through that legislative maze you know where it is heading: to punish conducts from cultivation to production, from transportation to export and import of illicit plants and substances. 

“Our referendum was deleting penalties only for one of those actions, cultivation, keeping all the other conducts in place – hence only growing for personal use would have been decriminalised, as massive cultivation would have remained illicit. Furthermore, one doesn’t need to be a botanist to know that one grows plants and not substance, one thing is cultivating coca bush, another producing cocaine, one thing is growing poppy seeds, another refining heroin. We do not cultivate wine but grapes.

“Mr Amato made that confusion and “forgot” to mention that prohibition to grow cannabis indeed appears in a paragraph of one of the articles we deleted as well as in the previous one – the 1990 law was toughened in 2006 but changed again in 2014 and sometimes it is difficult to keep track of all the changes, also for jurists – so, the accusation of having poorly drafted the referendum is a judgement that is up in the air as the law says otherwise. 

“Until we won’t have the motivations of the decision we can only speculate on the rationale behind it and respond to a brief, if not superficial, summary of the President of the Constitutional Court shared in a very unconventional manner on behalf of the 15 judges that took that decision.”

Speaking to Psychedelic Health, Perduca previously highlighted that the campaign also aimed to allow people to use cultivation for scientific research targeting specific physical conditions or pathologies. Perduca said that Italy is lagging behind other countries in psychotropic substance research. 

“We only have one centre at the University of Rome that is starting to study psilocybin for therapeutic purposes. We also grow cannabis for medical reasons, but nobody’s studying it,” said Perduca.

Find out more on what the campaign means for the Right to Science

Perduca is also now involved in a campaign for the Right to Science – an enshrined right in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. This entered into force in 1976 and covers freedom of research, freedom of knowledge, including open access, as well as free and open data.

Whilst more studies are demonstrating the efficacy of psychotropic substances, such as psilocybin, for treating mental health conditions, prohibition of cultivating such substances hinders scientific research in Italy that could contribute to this new fountain of knowledge. 

To address what the country lacks in the field of psychedelic research, Associazione Luca Coscioni recently published a collection of presentations and international symposia – The Dose Makes the Poison. The collection features psychedelic pioneers such as Amanda Feilding, Rick Doblin, Ben Sessa, Carl Hart and Raphael Mechoulam.

The campaigners have stated they will not stop the fight to push through the referendum.

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Italian campaign on psychotropic substances has signatures verified

Co-founder and international co-ordinator at Associazione Luca Coscioni shares his thoughts on the outlook for the campaign.

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Italian campaign on psychotropic substances has signatures verified

Signatures for an Italian campaign calling for the decriminalisation of psychotropic substance cultivation have now been verified by officials.

In 2021, the campaign gathered the half a million signatures needed to trigger a referendum in less than a week. All of those signatures needed to be verified as Italian citizens in order to progress.

With the signatures now verified, one more step remains until a referendum can be called in the spring.

The campaign has focused on cannabis but pertains to the cultivation of all psychotropic substances, such as mushrooms and peyote. 

It has been spearheaded by Forum Droghe, Meglio Legale, Antigone, Luca Coscioni Associations, Società della Reagione, and is supported by parties Volt Italia, Possible, Italian + Europa, and the Communist Refoundation.

Speaking to Psychedelic Health, Marco Perduca, co-founder and international co-ordinator at Associazione Luca Coscioni, which supports freedom of scientific research, commented: “I think this confirms the good idea we had in August, which was that there’s so much popularity concerning the need to amend the drug laws – in particular concerning cannabis – that the moment in which a lot of people would have been allowed to do something very quickly to support the referendum, they would have done it.

Find out more on what the referendum means for psychedelic research and the Right to Science

“We collected the necessary 500,000 signatures in less than a week and the remaining 30,000 signatures in the additional 10 days. According to the law, it’s not only necessary to submit signatures, you have to document that those who signed are certified registered voters in Italy. 

“This is why it took two and a half months to count. This is the first step.”

The campaign aims to modify the wording of “cultivation” in the Consolidated Law on the Discipline of Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances in Presidential Decree 309/1990.

“The second step is that a title is offered for the referendum – which, according to our reading, was a little too strict on the words that we were eliminating,” said Perduca. 

“So, we found a compromise solution in which, despite the fact that the word “cannabis” will not appear in the text nor in the title, at least the conduct of cultivation, sharing and personal use are represented in the title.

Find out how UK drug policy is hindering scientific research from the CDPRG’s latest report

“The law is very complicated to amend. You cannot just take away a plant or a substance from the schedule. You have also to find other parts of the law that should be eliminated because what is penalised is the action of the plant, per se. 

“So, according to our reading not only of the law but also of the jurisprudence of previous decisions of the Constitutional Court that have blocked similar referenda proposals in 1997 – we decided to go this way. But at least it is clear that it’s a referendum about cultivation and the personnel use and sharing of so-called “soft drugs”.”

Perduca highlighted that the campaign is now working on a document that will be presented by two lawyers before the Constitutional Court on February 15 together with seven other referenda.

“This document will touch upon issues such as the international implications of the deletion of the parts of the law and the constitutional requirements of Article 75 that prohibits the submission of referendum on issues – changes to the constitution, changes in the fiscal system, but also changes in laws that have enacted international treaties.

“And there could be a doubt here that we are in fact, working to do that. We are not because we are just eliminating some words, so we are not un-ratifying a document.

“The law we are working on has never been considered an implementing instrument of the 1988 Convention on Drugs. And the third part is the penal part because of course, taking away criminal sentences, we have to give satisfying arguments that the law after the elimination of the words of the referendum is an immediately applicable law.”

The Constitutional Court has until 10 March 2022 to make its decision public. 

Perduca highlights that Italy is currently in a critical political situation, as, due to a new agreement that on 24 January 2021, the Parliament must elect the new president of the Republic.

“If the current head of government is going to be elected president of the Republic, there is going either going to be a reshuffling in government or – and this will pose a huge problem for the referendum – if they won’t sign an agreement there is going to be early elections. 

Find out more about public opinion on psilocybin in the UK

“The referendum will push to 2023 because our law doesn’t allow us to have political elections and referenda at the same time.”

If early elections do not happen – Perduca says the campaign will request a vote on the referendum to take place on the same day of administered municipal elections at the beginning of June. 

“The major obstacle now will be to reach the quorum which is 50 per cent of the population plus one vote. We are talking about 27 to 28 million people beyond the age of 18 to turn out and vote.

“The other important political element to take into consideration is that there’s going to be eight referenda before the Constitutional Court on 15 February. 

“As well as this campaign, there will be one on euthanasia which is also co-promoted by the Luca Coscioni Associations, which collected twice as many signatures as this one. So, legalisation of euthanasia is a hugely popular theme, but the other six have been promoted by the parties belonging to the center-right coalition, who are all opposing the other two referendums. So, if there is this synergy between those that will ask their voters to go and vote yes for their six and at the same time vote no to the other two. 

“We are counting on people to show up because we know both euthanasia and cannabis are so hugely popular. There’s absolutely no discussion that we’re going to win if there’s going to be a quorum.

“There is some hope that the turnout will be significant. If the Constitutional Court will say no to either, all six or to some of the most politically charged of the six referendums concerning the reform of the administration of justice in Italy, things will turn out in a different way. 

“We are ready to fight our battle.”

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Psychedelic Health is a journalist-led news site. Any views expressed by interviewees or commentators do not reflect our own. We do not provide medical advice or promote the personal use of psychedelic compounds. Please seek professional medical advice if you are concerned about any of the issues raised.

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