cannabis smokers
Royal Society for Public Health and Faculty of Public Health call for new methods to tackle drug abuse Getty Images

Two of UK's leading public health groups have called on the government to decriminalise the possession and use of illegal drugs. They suggest medical assistance be provided to users as an alternative.

The Royal Society for Public Health and the Faculty of Public Health have argued that the "war on drugs" has done more harm than good. Users have been adversely affected in the long run finding it difficult to get an education or job, besides being exposed to more drugs in prison.

Taking a New Line on Drugs, a report brought out by the society and endorsed by the faculty, has received support from several charities and public officials, including a police commissioner. The public health experts have advocated coming down heavily on drug dealers but dealing more sensitively with drug users.

The Guardian reported Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the society as saying: "We have taken the view that is time for endorsing a different approach. We have gone to our stakeholders and asked the public and tried to gain some consensus from our community and the public, because that is very important."

The report recommended that children be provided with evidence-based drug education as part of public, social, health and economic (PSHE) curriculum in school from an early age. Both the society and faculty have called for the transfer of the drug policy from the Home Office to the Department of Health.

A poll of more than 2,000 people commissioned by the society, which accompanies the report, has found that 56% of respondents agreed that drug users should be referred for medical treatment to overcome their addiction and not left to face charges. However, a quarter of the respondents disagreed and believed the current UK drugs strategy is effective in protecting their health and well-being.

Alcohol and tobacco are under the legal drug category, while other substances like cannabis, heroine, ecstasy, cocaine, etc are illegal drugs. Although legal, alcohol is on top of the society's list of 10 most harmful drugs.

A Home Office spokesman said: "The UK's approach on drugs remains clear – we must prevent drug use in our communities and support people dependent on drugs through treatment and recovery. At the same time, we have to stop the supply of illegal drugs and tackle the organised crime behind the drugs trade."

He also said there had been a reduction in drug misuse among people over the past decade.