UK drugs policy needs a stronger health focus as criminalisation is deterring users from seeking help, say doctors.
Although illicit drug use has been declining in the UK, long-term problem drug use and drug-related deaths are not decreasing, says the British Medical Association.
Its Board of Science says evidence shows the current prohibitive approach to drug use is not working.
It says doctors should inform drugs policy to put patients' needs first.
Prof Averil Mansfield, chairman of the BMA's Board of Science, said: "While the medical profession would never condone illegal drug-taking, we believe that we should show understanding of the illness of drug addiction and respond in the way that we would with any other medical problem.
"The BMA believes that drug users are patients first."
Problem drug use affects about 10% of all UK drug users, with the highest levels in the 25 to 34 age group.
Cannabis is the most commonly used drug, followed by cocaine powder, ecstasy and amphetamines.
Last month, Prime Minister David Cameron ruled out a royal commission to consider the decriminalisation and legalisation of banned drugs, on the grounds that the government's approach was working.
He was responding to a home affairs committee report that argued there was a case for a fundamental review of all UK drug policy "now, more than ever".
Official figures show that drug use in England and Wales is at its lowest rate under current measurements since 1996.