How can drug safety be improved?
The closure of the popular London nightclub Fabric has highlighted many of the problems with the current global drug policy, and sparked a major debate among policymakers and scientists alike. One of Europe’s most iconic rave destinations, Fabric had its license revoked in September 2016 following the deaths of two teenagers on its premises as a result of drug overdoses. However, writing in the Guardian, Nutt points out that simply closing down venues where deaths occur doesn’t actually protect anyone, since it does nothing to stop impure drugs from being produced, sold, and consumed elsewhere.
As an alternative, he calls for drug testing in clubs, similar to the Drug Information and Monitoring System (DIMS) that currently exists in the Netherlands. This service allows anyone to have their drugs tested for impurities without having to worry about being arrested for possession. Thanks to the DIMS, no one in the Netherlands was killed by the recent lethal batch of "Superman" ecstasy pills that caused a number of deaths in other European countries where drug testing is not allowed.
London nightclub Fabric was closed down following two drug-related deaths – but will this actually increase public safety? Carl Court / Getty
Would a change of policy actually work?
The biggest concern of most prohibitionists is that relaxing the war on drugs would make it easier for people to access certain substances, leading to a massive increase in use. However, all available evidence suggests that this is not the case. In Portugal, for instance, all drugs were decriminalized in 2001 in a desperate attempt to curb spiraling addiction rates. Since then, levels of drug use in Portugal have fallen to below the European average, while a report by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction concluded that decriminalizing drugs does not lead to increased use.
As a result of this policy shift, Portuguese drug users were able to begin seeking help and medical attention when needed, without fear of legal repercussions. This facilitated the establishment of needle exchange programs and safe injection rooms, leading to a decrease in new HIV infections from more than 1,000 in 2001 to just 56 in 2012.
While the likes of Duterte and new British Prime Minister Theresa May continue to endorse prohibition and the relentless persecution of drugs and drug users, the hard evidence clearly suggests that a change of tack may be in the best interests of public health and safety.