syringe and spoon
© AFP / Dominick Reuter
A cross-party group of lawmakers have urged the UK government to consider decriminalizing drugs in Britain and treat it as a health and not a criminal issue, in order to curb the high rates of drugs-related deaths.

A report conducted by UK MPs on The Health and Social Care Committee has concluded that the government should carry out a consultation on decriminalization. They claim it would "save money" for the criminal justice system and allow more funds to be transferred into prevention and treatment that would help "save lives."

There would need to be sufficient funds provided to offer alternative approaches, such as supervised facilities where drug users could take drugs in a safe environment, the report said.

The lawmakers' report highlighted the example of Portugal, which decriminalized possession of drugs in 2001, resulting in a dramatic decrease in drug deaths.

"Overdose deaths decreased by over 80 percent after decriminalization," according to the US Drug Policy Alliance.

The UK has some of the highest rates of drugs-related deaths in Europe. In 2018, 4,359 deaths were recorded in England and Wales that were directly attributed to substance misuse - a 16 percent increase from the previous year. In Scotland, the problem has reached epidemic proportions.

The nation had a higher rate of drugs-related deaths than any other EU nation last year, with a 27 percent increase - its highest level since records began 23 years ago.

PM Boris Johnson's government has insisted that they are committed to reducing the use of drugs and "the harms they cause," but have poured cold water on any suggestions they could be open to decriminalization.

"The decriminalization of drug possession in the UK would not eliminate the crime committed by the illicit trade, nor would it address the harms associated with drug dependence and the misery that this can cause to families," a government spokesperson said.