BMA report

Drugs of dependence - the role of medical professionals

This report was first published in 2013 and seeks to open and refocus the debate on drug treatment and drug policy through the eyes of the medical profession.

Location: UK
Audience: All doctors
Updated: Thursday 26 August 2021
Topics: Population health
Public Health Article Illustration

What you will get from this report

  • An effective approach to preventing and reducing the harms associated with illegal drug use and drug-control policies, based on an independent and objective review of the evidence.
  • A doctor’s role in the medical management of drug dependence and the ethical challenges of working within the criminal justice system.


Key findings

  • Drug-related deaths have increased in recent years.
  • Short-term harms can range from unpleasant side-effects such as vomiting and fainting, to more serious impacts such as seizures, tissue and neural damage, or death.
  • Repeated use can lead to chronic physical and psychological health effects, as well as dependence.
  • Individuals who become dependent are at increased risk of harm because of chronic use.
  • People who inject illicit drugs are at particular risk of secondary health harms such as acquiring HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
  • The scale of the problem: illicit drug use in the UK
  • The burden of illicit drug use
  • Influences on illicit drug use
  • Drug policy in the UK
  • Controlling illicit drug use
  • Delaying initiation and minimising the use of illicit drugs
  • The doctor’s role in managing heroin addiction
  • Reducing secondary health harms
  • Illicit drug use, courts and prison
  • The role of healthcare professionals
  • The nature and addictiveness of commonly used illicit drugs
  • Health-related harms of emerging and established licit and illicit drugs commonly used in the UK
  • UK illicit drug usage data
  • Overview of drug adulterants
  • UK government strategies for reducing illicit drug use
  • Societal measures to restrict drug influences