Once upon a time, in the United Kingdom, drugs were not widely misused. However, as time passed, the use of drugs such as opium, cocaine, and heroin began to spread, particularly among the lower classes. These drugs were often used as a means of escape from the harsh realities of everyday life, such as poverty and unemployment.
As the use of these drugs became more prevalent, the government began to take notice. In the early 1900s, laws were passed to regulate and control the sale and distribution of certain drugs, including the Dangerous Drugs Act of 1920 and the Rolleston Committee in 1926, which aimed to control the use of morphine and heroin for medicinal purposes.
Despite these efforts, drug misuse continued to be a problem, and the number of drug-related deaths and crimes began to rise. With the arrival of World War II and post-war period, the use of drugs such as Benzedrine, which was prescribed to soldiers and civilians to help them stay alert, became more widespread.
In the 1960s and 1970s, a new wave of drug misuse emerged, as young people began experimenting with a variety of new drugs, including cannabis, LSD, and amphetamines. The government responded with even stricter laws, including the Misuse of Drugs Act of 1971, which classified drugs into different categories based on their potential for harm. This act still remains the main legislation in the UK for drug control.
Despite these efforts, drug misuse remained a significant problem in the UK, particularly in inner-city areas. In the 1980s and 1990s, the use of crack cocaine and heroin reached epidemic levels, leading to a surge in crime, poverty, and homelessness. The government response was to increase law enforcement efforts to combat drug trafficking and possession, as well as harsher penalties for drug offenses.
In recent years, the government has taken a more holistic approach to addressing drug misuse, including investing in education and treatment programs to help those who are struggling with addiction. The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, an independent body that advises the government on drug-related issues, has recommended a shift towards a health-based approach to drug policy, including the provision of harm reduction services, such as needle exchange programs and opioid substitution therapy.
While the problem of drug misuse in the UK is still ongoing, progress is being made to combat it. The government also invest in more research and development to find new ways to help those who are struggling with addiction. The UK is also a signatory of the United Nations conventions on narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, which sets global standards for drug control, and aims to promote cooperation among countries to combat drug misuse.
However, there is still a long way to go. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), in 2020, drug-related deaths in England and Wales reached a record high, with 4,393 deaths registered, the highest number since comparable records began in 1993.