Frequently Asked Questions



World Health Organisation quotes

United Nations quotes

EU quotes

EMCDDA quotes


What is a drug?

What are the costs of drug consumption?

What are the benefits of drug consumption?

What other factors lead people to consume drugs?

How should Government, business & individuals regulate the trade and consumption of drugs? Tony Blair on alcohol

How does familiarity affect risk perception and risk tolerance?

Who is responsible for individual health choices - voluntary risks v imposed risks?

Human rights

Public attitudes to drugs

Prevalence of use among young

New Scientist: "The legality of alcohol is tacit admission that the quest for intoxication is part of human nature".


Does increased drug use inevitably lead to increased drug harm?

Consider car use and car harm. Since 1922 car use has increased 25-fold but car harm has been reduced by a factor of 2. The reason? - increased regulation reduces harm. The environment is made safer (safer roads), the harmful object is made safer (safer car design), and the user of the car is made safer (education, driving tests). Regulatory improvements offset the risk of increased harm: improvements to the environment (road or market place), the object’s design (vehicle or drug quality/quantity) and the education of the user (driver training or drug user education).

Would legalisation increase drug availability?

Drug-taking is an adult activity like sex and products and services should only be available from licensed premises dedicated to that adult activity, with no access to young people (e.g. tobacconists, off-licenses, pubs). This represents the ideal restriction of availability for an integrated drugs strategy including both traditional and non-traditional drugs, a balance point to aim for. Legal drugs are too available through excessive licensing, illegal drugs too available through lack of regulation: 200,000 legal drug dealers while 12 year olds have no problem getting illegal drugs. Crucially all enforcement efforts could be focused on preventing young people obtaining drugs. Evidence shows a strong link between early drug use, of both legal and illegal drugs, and later drug problems.

Drug trends toward integration:

The Government’s modernisation program will eventually lead to integrated, evidence-based drug regulations. Drug regulation trends of the last few decades show convergence upon the targeting of legislation against harm to others only, using education to encourage personal responsibility for health through informed choice. This trend toward integration is a foreseeable risk to current drug regulations. The discrimination between traditional and non-traditional drugs is not based on drug risks but on public risk tolerance, a factor that has changed considerably over the last 40 years. The fundamental problem is that all drug availability has increased, whether legal or not.

Types of harm to others:

Businesses involved in production and trade of substances for consumption (food & drugs) may impose unacceptable risks on others in many ways. Legislation regulating production includes laws requiring ingredients lists, health warnings and adequate quantity and quality control throughout production, distribution and the consumption period (e.g. ‘sell by’ & ‘best before’ dates). Legislation regulating trade includes advertising and sales restrictions of products that may cause significant harm. Self-harm does impose a social cost in terms of health treatment. Government may tax the trade relating to activities that risk self-harm to cover the cost of drug-related services, including regulatory costs. Taxation of alcohol and tobacco covers the cost of all required drug-related services. Legislation regulating consumption includes drug-driving, fire risk on public transport, anti-social behaviour, and soon smoking in enclosed public places.

Business influence on policy making:

It is not clear what influence the traditional drug industry has in shaping policy toward competing non-traditional drug industries. A World Health Organisation Committee "found that the tobacco industry regarded the World Health Organization as one of their leading enemies, and that the industry had a planned strategy to "contain, neutralise, reorient" WHO's tobacco control initiatives". The Department of Health’s Dangerousness of Drugs says "a powerful lobby, the alcohol industry, has an obvious interest in minimising the number of deaths that are attributed to alcohol. This political pressure acts only to confound what is already a complex question of aetiology".

NGOs may regulate one day:

Alongside health warnings on products could be contact details for an umbrella organisation concerned with that product. Such an umbrella organisation would include all organisations concerned with that product. For tobacco this would include ASH (‘anti’), Forest (‘pro’) and the NHS (treatment). This would provide an important single link between consumer, organisations and Government. Consumers could find out further information and advice about rights, responsibilities and risk. The umbrella organisation may then be able to co-ordinate public involvement in Government policy-making aiding the co-production of policy. Ultimately a significant proportion of policy-making might be devolved to these umbrella organisations which would then attempt to resolve conflicting views, taking this burden from Government.

Safer alternatives, free competition

When cannabis becomes legally available those who consume alcohol excessively should be targeted to switch to cannabis.

Integrating substance use policies:

The harmful use of substances, food and non-medicinal drugs, is the largest source of lifestyle health problems. Harmful substance use is often a response to stress. Some individuals may find that consumption reduces stress. This negative feedback reduces their primary cause of substance use and so may lead to a re-balancing of the individual’s state. However if stress is chronic and this response to stress continues then dependence is likely. Dependence leads to long-term consumption and all the health risks and stress that entails. This positive feedback increases the causes of consumption. The benefits of drug use must be properly considered and the boundary between reasonably safe use and harmful use clearly defined. Dieters show the same relapse rate as those attempting to break their dependency on drugs. The Strategy Unit’s Addictive Behaviours – a review of research says "what are the main harmful addictions? Smoking, illicit drug use, and drinking, but possibly also over-eating leading to obesity?". An integrated systems strategy is required for cross-cutting issues such as substance consumption especially in light of their common non-linear effects due to feedback. The prohibition of only non-traditional drugs remains a barrier to joined-up policy. The word ‘substance’ can not be used to identify cross-cutting substance use issues since the word is currently used to mean only ‘legal and illegal drugs’.

Standard risk assessment for all consumed substances

A common risk assessment framework is required for all substances produced and supplied by organisations and consumed by individuals, food and drugs.