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British Medical Association's new report

15 January 2013

BMA Press Release - Tuesday 15 January 2013

Health should be at the centre of UK drug policy, says BMA

UK drugs policy should have a stronger health focus to help reduce the harm caused by illegal drug use, according to a new BMA report1 published today (15/1/2013).

‘Drugs of dependence – The role of medical professionals', has been produced by the BMA’s Board of Science to explore what can be done to reduce the damage caused by addiction to illegal drugs.

While not taking a moral stance on drug dependence, the report states that individuals who are addicted to illegal drugs have a medical condition which should be treated like any other illness.

While the report acknowledges that UK drug policies are beginning to incorporate wider social and economic factors, it maintains that the focus on health remains inadequate. It says drug users may be discouraged from approaching drug services, contacting paramedics in emergency situations, or volunteering accurate or complete information to health professionals, because they fear that policies are mainly focused on criminal justice.

‘Drugs of dependence – The role of medical professionals’ collates and analyses the evidence relating to drug dependency, including the scale of the problem, treatment and medical management, the development of UK drug policy over time, including the legal framework underpinning the current approach, and the role of healthcare professionals in tackling the problem. An expert reference group of specialists with a wide range of knowledge and experience in this field was set up to contribute and advise on the report.

The report concludes that drug dependency is a medical condition as well as a legal problem and that alternatives to the current approach to UK drug policy should have health at the centre of the debate.

Professor Averil Mansfield, Chairman of the BMA’s Board of Science, said:
“The BMA believes that drug users are patients first. That’s why we want health to be at the heart of the debate about drugs policy. We fear that too great a focus on criminalisation is deterring drug users from seeking medical help.

“While the medical profession would never condone illegal drug taking, we believe that we should show understanding of the illness of drug addiction and respond in the way that we would with any other medical problem.

“We welcome the downward trend in drug use, but it is extremely worrying that long-term problem drug use and drug related deaths are not decreasing.”
Drug addiction is an extremely complex issue and genetic make-up and social circumstances play a fundamental role, says the report.

Professor Mansfield added: “Effective drug policy should take account of the complex biological, psychological and social factors involved in illegal drug use. It is also vital that medical training should provide doctors with the basic knowledge about these factors to help clinicians identify patients at risk.

“There is no one size fits all answer. Drug addiction cannot be seen in isolation. An individual’s social circumstances play a key role in addiction and therefore a holistic approach to treatment is vital.”


Notes to editors:
Please click here to read the full report:   

For further information please contact:

Franca Tranza
Direct telephone: 020 7383 6188

British Medical Association
BMA House
Tavistock Square
For out-of-hours press enquiries telephone : 020 7383 6254
Email :

Nick Barton, Chief Executive of Action on Addiction, responds to the BMA ‘Drugs of dependence – The role of medical professionals’ report:

“Action on Addiction welcomes the BMA’s new report, which urges greater recognition of addiction as a health issue in the UK drug policy debate.

“Addiction is a very complex matter, with many contributing factors and a far-reaching impact. However, by recognising addiction as a serious medical condition – which has devastating effects on both physical and mental health – we help to dissolve some of the stigma that can prevent it from being treated effectively.

“It is essential that addicted people are treated first and foremost for their health condition, before we move on to tackle some of the other issues that are contributing to their condition. Action on Addiction recognises the importance of families in the treatment process which aims to tackle addiction, but also with our family support programme, M-PACT, which brings together parents and children who have suffered from the impact of addiction.

“It is crucial for interventions like these to be able to operate free from the stigma and prejudice that can often shroud addiction, and the BMA’s new report is a positive step towards achieving this.”


Please contact Sarah Savage at Four Colman Getty:
020 3023 9092 /

Notes to editors

Action on Addiction is the only UK charity working across the addiction field in research, prevention, treatment and rehabilitation, professional workforce development, professional education and support for families and children.

One in three people suffer from an addiction. It breaks up families, damages communities and destroys lives. In some way it touches us all. Action on Addition believes that it is important to take an integrated and dynamic approach to improving the understanding of addiction and people’s responses to it.

Action on Addiction has treatment centres throughout England as well as a specialist family support service (Families Plus) and an expert training centre for the treatment of addiction. They fund important and innovative research into addiction, working closely with the National Addiction Centre (part of the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London) and the Mental Health Research and Development Unit at the University of Bath.

Action on Addiction has been helping people with addiction problems for over 25 years. In January 2012 HRH The Duchess of Cambridge became patron of Action on Addiction.

For more information on Action on Addiction, visit the website:

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