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Drug policies: some effective, some weak, many ill-considered

Decisions on drug policy are too rarely informed by scientific evidence of their effectiveness, according to research led by Professor John Strang, Director of the National Addiction Centre at King’s College London published in The Lancet today.

The comprehensive review is the first of its kind to examine the effectiveness of all types of preventative drug policy worldwide, including policies to control the supply of drugs, prescription programmes to control pharmaceuticals, prevention programmes and health and social services for drug users.

Professor Strang says: ‘Drug policy can actually contribute more. We need to concentrate our energies and resources on interventions which have the potential for large population impact, interventions with strong scientific evidence of effectiveness, and interventions which have close links between their outcomes and Society’s vision of the public good.’

For policies to control the supply of drugs, the research concludes that the effectiveness remains unproven, at best, and that little evidence exists that crop substitution programmes in source countries actually work.

Of the most effective drug policies evidenced in the research, many are successful in maximising the public good - using indicators such as improved individual and public health,and reduced crime and improved quality of life – not only for individuals but also for neighbourhoods and families affected by drugs.

The authors call for drugs policy to increasingly measure success in terms of maximising the public good –a shift in emphasis from a focus on just trying to stem the supply of illegal drugs.  Supply control programmes remain important, if effective, but considerably more must be done to test their effectiveness, particularly in terms of benefiting the public good.

Prof Strang says:‘Scientific research can make important contributions to the construction of more effective drug policy, but final resource allocation involves wider public and political processes of priority-setting.

To watch an interview with Prof Strang on Lancet TV, please click here

For full paper: Strang et el. ‘Drug policy and the pubic good: evidence for effective interventions’ The Lancet (6th January 2012) doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(11)61674-7

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