The government’s disastrous drugs policy is about to be exposed in a very public way

Theresa May Conservative
Steve Topple

The criminal justice approach to drugs policy, rather than the health one, is about to get some serious public exposure as a global project arrives in the heart of London.

A groundbreaking approach to drugs policy

Release is the UK’s centre of expertise on drugs and drug laws. And it’s hosting the Museum of Drug Policy to celebrate its 50th birthday. The pop up exhibition and cultural centre has previously taken up residence in Montreal and New York. But it will be at the Ugly Duck event space in Tanner Street, near London Bridge Station, from 3-5 November. It showcases over 60 pieces of art from eight different countries and hosts interactive debates on drug reform, public health and human rights. And it’s free for the public to visit.

“Poignant”

Highlights include:

• Carrie Reichardt, The Tiki Love Truck: A two-tonne truck covered by Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) themed tiles, specially set up for this exhibition to honour 43 missing students in Mexico.
Jesse Krimes, Prisoner Portrait 1 and Prisoner Portrait 2, created on federal prison bed sheets.
Tracy Hetzel, Execution Series: portraits of people from five countries killed by the state for drug offences.
• Ann Lewis, … and counting: a powerful installation of 187 toe tags representing overdose deaths in the UK.

The Sex Worker’s Opera will perform live at the venue on the evening of 3 November. But it’s the museum’s relevance to UK drug policy which is most pertinent. Niamh Eastwood, Executive Director of Release, told The Canary:

This is a particularly poignant time in the UK to be showcasing the impact of current drug policies. Drug-related deaths in this country have reached the highest rate on record, and thousands of people who use drugs have been criminalized instead of getting the help they need. The museum is an excellent opportunity to elevate the drug policy debate, using art to highlight the relationship between drug policy and issues of social control—especially in relation to class and race—in ways our government refuses to address.

Failing policies

As The Canary previously reported, the government insists that its “approach” to drugs is working. But the statistics surrounding recreational drugs tell a different story.

The most recent comparable data available shows that death rates due to drugs in 2015 were the following in England and Wales:

  • Tobacco [pdf] – 79,000 in 2015, or around 16% of all registered deaths – up from 2014.
  • Alcohol – 8,758 in 2015, or 14.2 deaths per 100,000 people; these are direct deaths from alcohol-related diseases, not indirect.
  • Illegal drugs – 2,479 in 2015, or 4.38 deaths per 100,000 people.

But aside from overall drug-related deaths rising by 67%, and heroin-related deaths by 107% between 2012 and 2015, further statistics seem to contradict the government’s ‘success’; as almost a third of all drug overdoses in Europe happened in the UK. Additionally, Britain has the highest proportion of heroin addicts in the EU – eight in every 1,000 people. Also, the overall UK (including Scotland and Northern Ireland) drug mortality rate for 2016 was three times the EU average, at 60.3 deaths per million people.

“Blood on its hands”

And Eastwood is damning in her verdict on the government’s approach to this crisis:

If the government continues to ignore this tragedy it will have more blood on its hands. They must adopt the recommendations of their own advisors, who in 2016 said that the government should implement a national heroin-assisted treatment programme, and set up drug consumption rooms in areas where there is a need. As usual this advice was rejected.

The Museum of Drug Policy is a groundbreaking approach to highlighting one of the controversies of our age. And it’s one that will hopefully spark much-needed debate about the future of drug reform in the UK.

Get Involved 

– Find out more about the Museum of Drug Policy and Release.

– For advice on drugs or drugs and the law contact Release on 020 7324 2989.

– If it is a medical emergency, call 999. If your drug use is worrying you, call FRANK on 0300 123 6600.

Featured image via YouTube

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