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Harm Reduction in Public Policy - the UK and the US – A DrugScience evening reception at the House of Lords

On Wednesday 30 May 2018, DrugScience hosted an evening reception at the House of Lords, in partnership with Harm Reduction International. Sponsored by DrugScience trustee Lord Nick Rea, the evening featured presentations on the latest strategic approaches to reduce the negative consequences associated with risk behaviours and addiction, the challenging global funding environment for harm reduction, the implications for our most vulnerable populations, and an exploration into the intersection between harm reduction and human rights.

Guests heard from Prof David Nutt (DrugScience), Naomi Burke-Shyne (Harm Reduction International), Carrie Wade (R Street), Prof Adam Winstock (Global Drug Survey), and Anne-Marie Cockburn (Anyone’s Child)

The reception welcomed stakeholders from a wide range of backgrounds including parliamentary representation, researchers, academics and others. Notably, this included a US congressional delegation of 16 policy makers, visiting the UK to explore successful harm-reduction approaches and programs, and areas for improvement.

The aims of the US visitors were

  1. to establish a working relationship with international allies in the UK
  2. to introduce harm-reduction concepts to federal policymakers, including those familiar with some forms of harm reduction and those who have no experience with harm-reduction philosophies or programs
  3. to meet with local experts and evaluate successes and potentials in harm reduction
  4. to establish the R Street Institute as a leader in drug policy and harm-reduction expertise in the United States.

Prior to the evening reception at the House of Lords, members of the DrugScience committee met with the congressional delegation (which included a combination of both House and Senate representatives and was a 50:50 spilt between Democrats and Republicans) at the historic Church House Westminster.

DrugScience members presented on a range of topics:

  • Prof David Nutt provided an overview of DrugScience, how the organisation is pursuing harm reduction approaches to legal and “illegal” drugs (for example using MCDA approaches to estimate comparative harms both to users and society) and campaigning for a revision of drug laws to facilitate research and treatments.
  • Steve Rolles talked about harm reduction and legally regulating future non-medical drug markets.
  • Prof Larry Phillips demonstrated how the MCDA (Multi Criteria Decision Analysis) can be used to appraise and evaluate drug policy.
  • Dr Anne Katrin Schlag described a current DrugScience project which has been commissioned by Mississippi State Representative Joel Bomgar, aiming to investigate the harms inherent in the drugs themselves vs. the harms caused by drug policies, and to provide a scientifically rigorous research report on what percentage of the usage of each type of drug is problematic vs. non-problematic.
  • Prof Val Curran presented an overview on Cannabis: ‘pleasure, medicine, harms’
  • Prof David Nutt deputised for Prof Fiona Measham (unable to attend the meeting at short notice) and updated on The Loop’s innovative approach to drug testing in city centres and music festivals

DrugScience CEO David Badcock said:

“The visit of the US delegation was a unique opportunity to engage in a meaningful discussion about a rationale and more humane approach to drug policy. The US have a strong tradition of looking towards the UK when considering public health policy. Our hope is that our expertise will continue to influence federal and state public health approaches in the US, which demonstrates the international reach of DrugScience”.

The US visit was arranged by the R Street Institute; a non-profit, nonpartisan, public policy research organisation based in the US. R Street’s mission is to engage in policy research and outreach to promote free markets and limited, effective government.


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