While it is impossible to know exactly how many deaths in the UK can be attributed to drug abuse, it is apparent that drugs pose a serious threat to society. In the UK, controlled drugs are placed in one of three classes: A, B, or C. The class which a drug belongs to reflects the potential harm a drug possesses. Class A drugs are the most harmful, which is reflected by the harsher legal ramifications associated with their possession or dealing. However, despite recreational use of classified drugs being illegal, this does not stop people from taking them. So how do we reduce the harm these drugs have on society?

In 1994, Switzerland attempted to solve its drug problem by passing a radical new drug policy known as the “four pillars” policy. The four pillars are: harm reduction, treatment, prevention and repression, and these four pillars are the foundations of Switzerland’s stance on drugs.

As part of this policy, drug consumption rooms were opened in areas of Switzerland where drug abuse was a particular problem where harm reduction staff work non-judgementally with drug users to provide them with resources such as clean needles to try and reduce the risk of HIV. According to research, the number of opioid-related deaths in Switzerland has decreased by 64% in the last two decades. Furthermore, there has been a significant drop in new HIV infections; there were only 500 new positive tests in 2017 compared to over 3,000 in 1986. This suggests that the provision of clean needles has been beneficial. The drug consumption rooms also allow users to take drugs under medical supervision to reduce the chance of an overdose. Users are also provided with other resources they may need, including a place to sleep and eat, and help to find addiction treatment.

Similar services are also available for clubbers, who can visit a government-approved laboratory where they can get their drugs tested to check how safe they are to take. Many drugs such as MDMA are particularly dangerous due to the fact that they are not regulated, so users often do not know what they are actually taking. Deaths related to MDMA are often caused by people taking a dose that is too strong, but these tests can prevent this from happening by measuring the strength of a pill and advising people whether it is safe to take or not. This could potentially save lives, as if the person is going to take the drug anyway then it is better that they take a safe dose and reduce the risk of harm or death.

Of course, Switzerland’s approach is a rather controversial one, as some argue that it encourages drug consumption. Some initiatives have already been trialed in UK festivals, where tents were put up where people can go and get their drugs tested. This allows people to take drugs safely, and reduces the risks associated with taking an unknown substance.