“We are being led by the science” is the new mantra from Ministers seeking to justify their actions. This line of defence earns hollow laughs from the drug user movement, as we have been collectively burned. We have experienced politically motivated decisions leading to disinvestment from drug and alcohol services and undermining the coverage and quality of our harm reduction and drug treatment services.
In the early days of the HIV response, the UK could truly claim to have been driven by the science. The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) was charged with evaluating the evidence and producing three highly influential HIV and Drug Misuse reports, which promoted harm reduction practice with linked specialist funds that invested in innovation and creativity.
New Labour took us on a journey of defining drug policy and practice not on the basis of the science but on the basis of what their focus groups told them the public would accept. This led to OST being justified as a crime reduction not a public health measure. Community mobilisation was redefined first as service user involvement (you only have value as the clients of our services) and then recovery (you only have value if you stop being drug users). This was an insult to the many drug user activists and groups who had played a pivotal role overcoming HIV through the 80s and 90s.