By Andy Gregory / The Independent

The future government has been urged to consider every available measure to curb the current drug death “crisis”, including decriminalisation, in an unprecedented plea from the UK’s major drug treatment providers.

They implored the next government to be “brave and radical” in the changes they make to current drug laws, described as “not fit for the modern world”.

An independent commission must be established to revamp “incredibly outdated” policy, with no options off the table, said the UK’s largest drug treatment provider, Change Grow Live. Ahead of the general election, the charity urged all political parties to commit to setting up this commission and implementing whatever it recommends, and to pledge centralised, ringfenced funding for drug and alcohol treatment until at least 2025.

The call was also backed by Addaction, Turning Point and Humankind. Together the four organisations provided support for the vast majority of the 268,251 adults receiving drug and alcohol treatment in England this past year.

The plea for every political party to prioritise the crisis and pledge tangible, evidence-based change ahead of the general election comes in response to record levels of drug-related deaths, with 4,539 fatalities in England and Wales in 2018, and 1,187 in Scotland – the highest rate anywhere in Europe.

“What is most concerning and completely unacceptable is that these tragedies can be avoided: with the right policies, approach and support,” Change Grow Live’s CEO, Mark Moody, told The Independent. Referencing the Misuse of Drugs Act, he said: “There are very few policies written in 1971 that are fit for the modern world – and drug legislation is one of those things.”

While the charity is “not suggesting a lift and shift of policies that have worked in other places” and doesn’t believe in “silver bullets”, Mr Moody said decriminalisation, and other evidence-based policies, need to be evaluated in a British context with nothing “off the table”.

“I don’t think you can necessarily say that what works for Portugal works for the UK,” he said, emphasising the need for nuanced policy discussions, even in terms of what different regions of the country may require.

But while he sees “no criminal justice or health benefits” to criminalising individuals for possessing small amounts of substances for personal use, Mr Moody suggested criminalisation can further stigmatise drug users – which he described as “a big part of the problem in the country. We should be talking about our fellow citizens as human beings who have a problem rather than demonising them,” he said. “When you characterise people in this caricature way, it does get in the way of sensibly thinking about how to do something, which is a problem for the whole of society, not just the person affected by it.”