Medical management of people who use illegal drugs: new report from the BMA


There has been a great deal of debate about illicit drugs in recent weeks. Just before Christmas, we had the House Affairs Committee report, which highlighted the downward trend in recorded drug use over recent years. Earlier this week the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy Reform published their report on legal highs, which recommended a number of fundamental policy changes.

The BMA Board of Science have now published a new report, which explores the role that medical professionals should play in dealing with illegal drugs and dependency.

The objectives of the report are to:

  • Encourage debate on the most effective approach to preventing and reducing the harms associated with illicit drug use and illicit drug-control policies, based on an independent and objective review of the evidence
  • Examine the role of the medical profession in preventing and reducing the harms associated with illicit drug use and policies for control of illicit drug use
  • Encourage debate and dialogue between the medical profession and policy makers, legislators, the police, service providers and academics who have knowledge and expertise in this area.

Professor Averil Mansfield, chair of the BMA Board of Science, has introduced the report by saying:

We believe that addiction to illegal drugs is a medical condition that needs to be treated like any other illness. It’s important to remember that no one sets out to be addicted to drugs and a simplistic moralistic approach may not be helpful.

The substantial report (341 pages) examines the scale of illicit drug use in the UK and the burden it has on individuals and society as a whole.

Drug policy is discussed in detail, especially the harms associated with the prohibitionist legal framework controlling drug use.

Prevention programmes are explored and a significant amount of space is given to the medical management of heroin addiction and secondary health harms, as well as the role that healthcare professionals can play in managing drug dependency in the criminal justice system.


Executive summary – Drugs of dependence: the role of medical professionals (PDF). BMA Board of Science, Jan 2013.

Drugs of dependence: the role of medical professionals (PDF). BMA Board of Science, Jan 2013.

Drugs: Breaking the Cycle: Ninth Report of Session 2012–13 (PDF). House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, 3 Dec 2012.

Towards a Safer Drug Policy: Challenges and Opportunities arising from ‘legal highs’. Report of an Inquiry into new psychoactive substances (PDF). All-Party Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy Reform, 14 Jan 2013.

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Andre Tomlin

André Tomlin is an Information Scientist with 20 years experience working in evidence-based healthcare. He's worked in the NHS, for Oxford University and since 2002 as Managing Director of Minervation Ltd, a consultancy company who do clever digital stuff for charities, universities and the public sector. Most recently André has been the driving force behind the Mental Elf and the National Elf Service; an innovative digital platform that helps professionals keep up to date with simple, clear and engaging summaries of evidence-based research. André is a Trustee at the Centre for Mental Health and an Honorary Research Fellow at University College London Division of Psychiatry. He lives in Bristol, surrounded by dogs, elflings and lots of woodland!

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