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The government was supposed to produce a drugs strategy in 2016, but two weeks into April 2017 and still nothing. We see disturbing scenes of completely wasted people on our city streets, caught up in the latest drug craze ‘spice’. There can be no excuse for government inaction. Brexit should not be the only issue for Government and other policy areas cannot be completely neglected, especially ones that are literally a matter of life and death.
Who knows how bloody and messy the ‘war on drugs’ will get under President Trump. In general, in this country in recent years we have usually had a far more intelligent approach to drugs and drug-related crime. But the drugs barons never rest and the threat is constantly changing. Policy must be proactive and evidence-based.
Recorded drug-related crime is not rising in this country. Yet there were almost 150,000 drug offences committed last year in England and wales, so there is no room for complacency. Heroin, cocaine or crack cocaine addicts commit theft and robbery to feed their habits. Nearly all the most dangerous gangs in Britain are involved in the Class A drugs trade. The UK is also the EU’s largest market for ‘legal highs’.
The last drugs strategy in 2010 estimated drugs cost the UK £15.4 billion a year. Drugs provide the largest source of income for serious and organised crime. Major gangs or master criminals must launder their proceeds, corrupting in the banks and the criminal justice system. Many people’s lives are blighted by the impact of street level drug-related crime.
Official drugs strategy has always included reducing demand, increasing awareness and education, especially in schools, restricting supply, tackling organised crime, improving treatment and recovery, and so on.
But there are significant problems with the government’s approach summed up by one word: cuts. There have been significant cuts to drug treatment services. There have also been over 20,000 cuts to the police. Even the austerity fanatics must see that this is a false economy. Cuts preventing a effective drugs strategy lead to much higher costs elsewhere, in the NHS, the criminal justice system or simply the overall crime rate.
The government also seems to have a blind spot with regard to alcohol. Alcohol abuse is not cost-free to the individuals or to society as a whole. In some ways, it is the most harmful drug of all, in terms of the scale of its effects. Tackling alcohol abuse must be part of the drugs strategy.
Experts seem to be unfashionable in some government circles but their evidence and analysis is crucial to a successful strategy to combat drugs. Yet the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs is just one of the bodies regularly ignored by government, along with others.
The drugs problem can ruin lives and creates far larger costs in the NHS, courts and prisons and in society as a whole. This is why I oppose any further cuts in funding the drugs strategy cuts to frontline policing. We can tackle drugs by investing resources intelligently. Cuts are harming prevention, detection and rehabilitation of drug abuse. The lack of a drugs strategy is inexcusable. It doesn’t have to be this way. Just say no.