Specialists in substance use and public health have warned that Brexit poses a “severe threat” to shared knowledge of emerging substance use trends and on issues relating to organised crime.
In a letter to the Government, published in the British Medical Journal, the authors the state that the “red lines” set in the Brexit negotiations, including rejecting oversight by the EU Court of Justice, could limit the UK’s access to early warning systems which alert them to new and potentially dangerous drugs.
In particular, the authors mention the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) which plays a central role in reducing illicit drug harm across Europe.
“Collaboration between the UK and the EMCDDA has been transformative, making a major contribution to national drug policy and the fight against organised crime,” the letter states.
“Exclusion from its operations poses a severe threat to both.”
“The challenges associated with Brexit arrive precisely when the UK relies most heavily on the EMCDDA to tackle the rapidly evolving trade in illicit substances, especially that involving organised crime, the consequences of which are seen on the streets and in emergency departments every week,”
The UK will also suffer from losing direct access to Europol’s databases on drug traffickers and criminals across the continent.
“The EMCDDA is the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) of Europe,” the letter’s lead author Dr Andres Roman-Urrestarazu, a fellow in global public health at the University of Cambridge, told The Independent newspaper.
“It covers everything, from early warning systems for new psychoactive substances, things like GHB, spice or ‘AK47’, all the synthetic cannabinoids, through to the current infection rate among people injecting heroin and opioid overdoses.
“But it also links to Europol, and tools they have which allow criminal record checks.”
He adds that Denmark rejected certain EU Court of Justice oversights and has to make hundreds of thousands of requests each year for information from these databases.
The letter’s signatories, from the University of Edinburgh, the Faculty of Public Health, and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, say the government has so far failed to provide any reassurances on these areas.
“This presents substantial risks to public health and safety,” they write, and urgent action is needed to prevent risks becoming reality.
A Public Health England spokesperson said: “We recognise that continued cooperation on drugs, and on the early warning system in particular, is in the interests of both the UK and EU and that we are therefore pleased that the government has proposed that ongoing cooperation with the EMCDDA should be included in the security partnership.”