OPINION - Drug raids might grab headlines but people need help, not coercion

OPINION - Drug raids might grab headlines but people need help, not coercion
© PA Archive

A former Government adviser has said drug laws should be changed (PA)

– PA Archive

The government has chosen to focus early attention on its new 10-year drug strategy of more police enforcement against criminal gangs responsible for supplying drugs coupled with new efforts to reduce demand–not least among more affluent so-called “lifestyle” users.

The first part of this is unsurprising for a Conservative administration which will, of course, want to be seen to be strong on law and order.

It’s obvious too that while drugs remain illegal and the cause of so much crime–with the Home Office saying that half of murders are linked to drugs–that police action against it is a necessity.

It’s also understandable that ministers want to change attitudes to drug taking among the large numbers who currently consume illegal substances without pausing to consider the suffering that’s caused by getting what they’re taking to them in the first place.

That’s because enforcement alone will never work if the demand, and the accompanying lucrative profit, remain to the extent that it does today, giving such a big incentive to criminals to carry on.

Ministers promise potential passport or driving licence confiscation to focus the minds of those caught using or ordering drugs.

Such headline grabbing measures might not in reality be taken often, or even at all, but the intention behind the public relations blitz launched by ministers is clearly to make users think more about the consequences of their habit and adopt what they believe is a more socially responsible attitude by changing their behaviour and leaving drugs behind.

But it’s how effectively the government manages to help, rather than coerce, people to achieve this that is ultimately likely to determine whether this drugs strategy proves a success or not.

The full details had yet to be published as Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited police earlier, but the new strategy promises record breaking investment in treatment and diversion, including for 300,000 hardcore heroin and crack cocaine users whose addiction the government believes is driving much of the crime and other social impacts connected to drugs.

How well such treatment programmes work and how extensively they’re delivered will never attract headlines in the same way as raids on organised crime gangs but could undermine the latter’s business model equally effectively, at the same time as reducing the immense health and psychological harm that can often be used both to the drug users themselves, as well as their families and others around them.

Some critics argue, of course, that as part of treating drugs as a health, rather than a criminal justice problem, other more far-reaching changes ranging from decriminalisation to full legalisation should be implemented.

Their arguments, which include claims about tax revenues that could be generated from a regulated drug trade, fail to address realities such as the huge criminal market in illicit tobacco, even though the substance itself is legal, or the point that demand would inevitably remain for cheaper, stronger and more drugs than could ever be dispensed via any authorised route, as well as the obvious risks of continuing harm to health.

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