10 Nov 2014 Towards a Health Based Approach - Conference 2015


Thursday 12th March 2015

To Book, click here to download the booking form (PDF), fill out the form and then press Submit Form at the top.


conference-2015-large.jpgThe global “War on Drugs” has been fought for 50 years without preventing the long-term trend of increasing drug supply and use. “Criminalising drug users has clearly not reduced the problems we face, and has only served to exacerbate the harm caused by drugs. It is time for policy makers at all levels, including the UN drug agencies, to move away from the failings of drug war ideology and embrace a new approach guided by sound evidence and public health principles”
Baroness Meacher (Chair UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy Reform)

Even the United Nations office on Drugs and Crime, admits that the war on drugs has had terrible “unintended” consequences:

  • It diverts scarce resources away from improving health and towards ineffective law
  • enforcement. (In Wales and England £2-4 billion spent on fighting war on drugs creating crime
  • costs of £15 billion each year.)
  • It stigmatises and marginalises drug users often deterring them from seeking treatment
  • even when they want it.
  • It can deter individuals from accessing advice and support which can impact
  • on public health i.e. hepatitis, HIV
  • It pushes people towards using sometimes riskier drugs

What does Britain think ?

  • 53% of people believe that the Government’s approach to illegal drugs is currently ineffective
  • 88% believe that, whether we like it or not, there will always be people who use drugs, and that the aim should therefore be to reduce the amount of harm they cause themselves and others
  • 59% of Brits consider that people who use illegal drugs but have not committed any other crime should, in general be treated as people who may need treatment and support
  • 67% UK support for a review of drug policy
  • 86% Do not want tougher enforcement / heavier penalties
  • 40% of the public supported the introduction of the same policy as Portugal in the UK

(Data Yougov / Mori Polls)

We must learn from countries such as Portugal, Germany and Switzerland that are taking a brave lead in trying new ways to treat the drug problem as a health issue. UK politicians must be equally brave and listen to the people who, as the surveys show, want them to find a new way.



Baroness Meacher was educated at the Berkhamsted School for Girls, the University of York, and the University of London. Baroness Meacher has held a number of senior management roles, and worked as a senior adviser to the Russian Government on employment in the 1990s. She has been the author and editor of books on mental health and poverty. She has served as deputy chair of the Police Complaints Authority and Chair of the Security Industry Authority. She was Chair of the East London NHS Foundation Trust until 2012. On 2 May 2006, she was made a life peer, of Spitalfields, and sits as a crossbencher. Since 2011 she has chaired the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy Reform which recommends decriminalisation of drugs. In 2012 she chaired the inquiry panel of the APPG into new psychoactive substances. The panel produced a report "Towards a Safer Drug Policy". On 17 October 2013, she led a debate in the House of Lords on UK Drugs policy.

Today programme: "At the moment we have a situation where all drugs are either in the hands of criminal gangs or, in the case of legal highs, in the hands of very dubious scientists. There's nowhere that young people can go where they can get really good information about what is in the drugs, how safe they are, how much they should take, how they should take it and so on. Therefore the current system is, in our view, dangerous. So what we're looking at is a safer system to protect young people."



Dr. Nuno Capaz, Vice President of the Dissuasion Commission of Lisbon, Portuguese Ministry of Health In 2001, facing an increasing problematic use of illicit substances (especially injected heroin) and the consequent problems associated to it (health, social and criminal), the Portuguese government decided to decriminalize drug usage. The use or possession with the intention to use it's still considered illegal, and there are sanctions that can be applied to drug users. Decriminalization means that there are no criminal sanctions involved, no jail sentences or criminal records for the sole act of using drugs.

Not only did the Portuguese government decide to remove the criminal sanctions but they also decided to completely divert these cases from the judicial and criminal system. Based on the assumption that drug use is mainly a health issue Nuno Capaz, sociologist, has been working for the Portuguese Ministry of Health's Dissuasion Boards since they were created in 2001. These Boards were created to apply Portugal's ground breaking law, passed in 2000, decriminalizing all drug use. As such, he is a member of an interdisciplinary team that evaluates drug users. He has also been in charge of correspondence with foreign delegations seeking information and research about the Portuguese model for drug policy.



Anne-Marie is a bereaved single mother whose 15 year old daughter, Martha Fernback, died on 20 July 2013 after swallowing half a gram of MDMA powder, which turned out to be 91% pure. Her book, 5,742 Days, documents the first 102 days without her daughter and shows her real-time journey of survival and hope.

In her own words: ‘It’s about harm reduction and safeguarding, based on reality. Prohibition leaves the control of drugs in the hands of criminals. We must take control of drugs in order to establish a healthier and safer society, and that means responsible regulation.’ "Being a bereaved single parent is the worst job in the world... What is crystal clear to me now is that strict and responsible regulation of drugs is vital. So what does this actually mean? It means taking drugs out of the hands of dealers and treating them in the same way as pharmaceuticals. Licensed drugs are labelled, ingredients are listed and necessary dosage information is provided. Free drug testing facilities should also be widely available so that if people are going to take drugs, they can know what they are taking’



Niamh is Executive Director of Release. She is a non-practising barrister who started at Release in 2002 as a legal advisor. She has extensive experience of service delivery, policy strategy, fundraising and operational development. Having worked in drug policy for the last ten years Niamh is passionate about drug policy reform and believes that the most vulnerable in society are disproportionately impacted upon by the current drug laws.

Niamh has co-authored Release's two most recent policy papers 'The Numbers in Black And White: Ethnic Disparities In The Policing And Prosecution Of Drug Offences In England And Wales' and ‘A Quiet Revolution: Drug Decriminalisation Policies in Practice Across the Globe’. She has also co-authored and edited a number of Release's advice booklets including ‘Drugs and the Law’ and ‘Sex Workers and the Law’, she regularly contributes to drug policy journals and publications including Drugs and Alcohol Today (of which she is also a member of the editorial board) and Drink and Drug News.

Niamh is also an Associate of The London School of Economics IDEAS International Drug Policy Project, a member of the Expert Steering Group for the Global Drug Survey and is a visiting lecturer at the Centre for Public Health, Liverpool John Moores University.



Rick Lines was appointed Executive Director of Harm Reduction International in September 2010 after initially joining in 2007 as Senior Policy Advisor and later as
Deputy Director. Rick has been working in HIV and harm reduction services, policy and advocacy since the early 1990s, and is known for his leading work in the areas of HIV in prisons, prison needle/syringe programmes, human rights and the death penalty for drug offences. He started his career providing front-line HIV and harm reduction services for prisoners and ex-prisoners in Canada. He later served as Executive Director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust in Dublin, and acted as a technical assistance advisor on HIV in prisons for several UN agencies.

He is a member of the Strategic Advisory Group to the UN on Injecting Drug Use and HIV and of the Global Fund Human Rights Reference Group. He is a former member of the Technical Advisory Group to the Global Commission on HIV and the Law and the Reference Group to the United Nations on HIV and Injecting Drug Use. Rick is co-founder and Chair of the International Centre on Human Rights and Drug Policy at the Human Rights Centre, University of Essex, where he is a Visiting Fellow. He is Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a Visiting Lecturer in human rights and drug policy at the Irish Centre for Human Rights, National University of Ireland Galway. He holds Masters Degrees in both Sociology and International Human Rights Law, as well as a PhD in Law.



George is the policy and communications officer for Transform Drug Policy Foundation, a UK based think tank that campaigns for drug policy reform, with a particular focus on the legal regulation of drugs. George is the author or co-author of several Transform publications, including ‘How to Regulate Cannabis: A Practical Guide’, ‘The Alternative World Drug Report’, and ‘Debating Drugs: How to Make the Case for Legal Regulation’. He was also a contributor to the latest report by the Global Commission on Drug Policy, ‘Taking Control: Pathways to Drug Policies that Work’, and regularly provides comment and analysis on drug policy issues for a range of outlets.

George has studied drug policy at the University Institute of Lisbon, as part of a programme run by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction. He also holds an undergraduate degree in French and philosophy from the University of Sheffield, and an MSc in public policy from the University of Bristol. His master’s dissertation examined the policy-making process that led to the legalisation and regulation of cannabis in Uruguay.



Josie Smith is a Research Scientist and National Lead for Substance Misuse. Josie has over 20 years experience within the field of substance misuse working within specialist services including residential units addressing complex needs including co-morbid drug, alcohol and mental health as well as homelessness. Josie, as part of the team, has developed the substance misuse research programme to include estimating prevalence of problematic and injecting drug use and blood borne viruses (hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV) prevention initiatives. Josie is programme lead on the WEDINOS project (Welsh Emerging Drugs and Identification of Novel Substances) and the Harm Reduction Database Wales (Needle & Syringe Programme provision and Take-home Naloxone).

As a member of Advisory Panel on Substance Misuse and wider UK advisory boards, Josie contributes the Public Health evidence and perspective on a range of drug and alcohol issues including: trends in substance misuse including new psychoactive substances, steroid and image enhancing drugs and misuse of prescription only medicines; prevalence estimation of problematic drug and alcohol use; morbidity and mortality related to substance misuse, and harm reduction.




Professor Pat O'Hare was the Executive Director of Harm Reduction International from its founding in 1996 until he stepped down in 2004. Pat is the Executive Director of HIT.


Ifor Glyn is the Chief Executive of Sands Cymru. He is a qualified social worker and has worked in the substance misuse field in Wales for over 20 years.


Niamh is Executive Director of Release. She is a non-practising barrister who started at Release in 2002 as a legal advisor.


To Book, click here to download the booking form (PDF), fill out the form and then press Submit Form at the top.

For expression of interest: