Making drug abuse a health issue

THE deadline is looming to complete another States of Guernsey survey this week – except this one has already secured a significant response and attention.

More than 850 people have already responded to a joint questionnaire from the Committee for Home Affairs and the Committee for Health & Social Care. The two committees are mandated to exploring pathways to improve the health, wellbeing and safety of people who use drugs, their families and friends, and the wider community.

The survey seeks to get views on the current penalties for possession and use of small quantities of drugs, the harms associated with approaches focused on punishment, and potential alternatives.

Options being considered include diversion – steering substance users towards health-oriented support programmes; deferral – enabling substance users to avoid criminal justice processes if they move along a health-oriented route; and depenalisation – not decriminalisation, but a reduction in criminal penalties for cases where someone is found in possession of small amounts of illegal drugs.

Decriminalisation is strictly off the agenda here, and most islanders would probably not want Guernsey to go soft on drugs, and nor would they expect it to do so. Many will have seen and welcomed the punitive sentence in the Royal Court last week for significant Class A and B importations.

But there should be a recognition that not only will people experiment with drugs, their use is widespread. Harsh penalties only seem to indicate the authorities are out of touch with the island’s young people. Hence the importance of the justice policy review which this report forms part of.

Health & Social Care is already coming around to evidence that steering substance users towards health-oriented support can result in beneficial outcomes for substance users, family, friends and ultimately the community as a whole.

Viewing substance abuse primarily as a health issue and reconsidering sentencing policies on personal use is a pragmatic step forward.

This review could well end up being one of the most significant pieces of work for this Assembly.

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