A NORTH-East Police and Crime Commissioner branded parts of the Government’s new drug strategy “fundamentally disappointing” after it ruled out decriminalising users.

Durham Police and Crime Commissioner Ron Hogg released his own report on drug policy at an event yesterday, which attracted supporters from across the country and further afield.

He has called for a radical rethink on policy, ensuring an evidence based approach with a focus on harm reduction.

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He said: “Across Europe we have the highest use of heroin, ecstasy and cocaine. Drug induced deaths is 60.3 per million – three times the European average.

“It (drug policy) doesn’t work and it needs to be changed. Decriminalise addicts so they can enter into treatment.”

He added: “What we are not proposing is the legalisation of drugs but decriminalisation of users.”

Drug use in the UK has fallen in the last decade but deaths caused by illegal substances are rising.

The number of drug deaths in England and Wales increased by 10.3 per cent to 2,479 in 2015 –48 per cent higher than in 2005.

Home Office statistics show the number of adults aged between 16 and 59 who take drugs is at now at 8 per cent - a 2.5 per cent drop from 10 years ago.

Mr Hogg welcomed parts of the Government’s 2017 drug strategy, which was published yesterday, but added: “They are refusing to consider decriminalisation which we think would be a real benefit.

“There’s an increased focus on the benefits of harm reduction and health but we are not fully focussed on the health solutions which means people can come forward without fear of arrest or prosecution.”

Mr Hogg’s report was backed by former Swiss president Ruth Dreifuss, the chair of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, who has championed new approaches and led the introduction of “consumption rooms” – where addicts can get medical grade drugs.

The key note speaker at the event at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Durham said: “I am very very pleased to see the priority of health aspects in the paper produced by Ron Hogg. We think it’s an important step forward for saving lives and giving greater safety to the whole population.”

Plans to introduce consumption rooms for heroin addicts in County Durham have been delayed and will not be in use this year.

Mr Hogg said he hoped the proposal would still go ahead but more work needed to be done.

Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the Royal Society for Public Health, backed the paper and added her voice to the call for a new UK policy on decriminalising drug users. She said: “The Government has really missed an opportunity here. It’s a relatively small thing which would introduce a real change in approach. The missing bit is decriminalisation.”

Home Secretary Amber Rudd said the Government’s new policy would bring together police, health and community partners to clamp down on the illicit drug trade and help people turn their lives around.