Drugs are a public health issue, and should be legalised with Doctors at the heart of the debate according to the British Medical Journal.

16 Nov 2016

In a series of articles, the BMJ argue that ‘the war on drugs has failed,’ and claim that prohibitive drug laws have done nothing to reduce addiction or organised crime.

The BMJ’s editorial highlights a number of areas where ‘the war on drugs’ has actually caused public health problems, as opposed to remedying them:

Prohibition and stigma encourage less safe drug consumption and push people away from health services. Sharing of injection equipment has led to huge epidemics of bloodborne infection, including HIV and hepatitis C. And just one in every six of the 29 million people worldwide with a drug use disorder received treatment in 2014.

The ideological goal of a “drug-free world” encourages ideologically driven medical practice. For example, patients in Crimea died after the Russian invasion because they were forced to stop taking methadone, which is viewed as opioid misuse and illegal in Russia. The UK government’s promotion of abstinence at the expense of proved maintenance treatment may have contributed to a doubling in opioid related deaths between 2012 and 2015.

Drug control policies effectively deny two thirds of the world’s population—more than five billion people—legitimate access to opioids for pain control. And they impede research into medical use of cannabis and other prohibited drugs despite evidence of potential benefit.


This is the first time the BMJ have publicly called for drug legalisation.

The BMJ have asked that the Health Sector be granted control of drug policy, citing a lack of leadership from government and law enforcement in tackling the issues at hand. The editorial concludes:

Doctors and their leaders have ethical responsibilities to champion individual and public health, human rights, and dignity and to speak out where health and humanity are being systemically degraded. Change is coming, and doctors should use their authority to lead calls for pragmatic reform informed by science and ethics.

Dr Chris Ford, Clinical Director of International Doctors for Healthier Drug Policies said:

"We know the global war on drugs has failed and this has had devastating consequences for individuals and communities around the world.

It has harmed people who use drugs, impeded progress on public health measures to reduce HIV and hepatitis C, limited opioid substitution therapy, and prevented other harm reduction measures being available to all who need them. Drug policy is being used to justify people’s and governments’ moralistic and prejudiced opinions.

The BMJ feature clearly identifies the huge role doctors must play if we are to see drug policies where health of the individual and society become paramount.  More and more doctors from all over the world are questioning current policies that continue to allow an increase in drug related deaths, a huge increase in HIV and Hepatitis C infections and the mass incarceration of the most marginalised members of society.  At International Doctors for Healthier Drug Policies we are seeing increasing numbers of obstetricians, paediatricians, cardiologists, surgeons and other specialists joining the more obvious candidates of HIV/AIDS and addiction specialists in calling for change."

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