Change of tactics demanded over drugs

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The Independent Online

The battle against drugs is not winnable in the near future, a survey of police and other law enforcement agents showed today.

Nine out of 10 of those questioned said it was "unlikely" UK drugs markets would be eradicated in the near future.

The findings were revealed as part of a study on UK drugs policy by the UK Drug Policy Commission, an independent charity.

It found drug dealers were often able to avoid having their operations shut down by the police.

Even when arrests were made and drugs seized, drug markets were "quick to adapt", the report found.

Instead, the authors suggested targeting law enforcement efforts at reducing the harm caused by illegal drugs.

They suggest moving drug dealers from residential neighbourhoods to different areas where they would cause less harm.

Measuring success in terms of arrests and seizures was of "limited value", the report said.

Even successful police operations can sometimes can have negative consequences if, for example, they create a turf war between rival gangs.

"Levels of enforcement activity appear to bear no direct relationship to levels of drug use or availability," the report said.

"Traditionally, drug enforcement efforts have focused on arrests and seizures, with the aim of reducing supply, but drug markets are large, resilient, and quick to adapt."

It suggested "seeking to displace a market to another area, where it will have less impact".

Roger Howard, chief executive of the UKDPC, said: "Drug law enforcement is clearly not limited to the traditional role of arresting as many dealers as possible in anticipation of reducing supply.

"Drug markets will inevitably remain, and some enforcement agencies are beginning to prioritise their resources and efforts to curb the most harmful aspect of these.

"But to do this means having a much bigger picture of the harms being created and much better evaluation of the real impact and value for money of enforcement."

Last week official figures revealed cocaine use rocketed by 25 per cent last year in England and Wales.

Almost a million adults admitted using the drug, and nearly half of those were aged between 16 and 24.

Home Office minister Alan Campbell said: "Tough enforcement is a fundamental part of our drug strategy, and the police continue to make real progress in tackling the supply of illegal drugs and in reducing the harm they cause.

"As the report states, harm reduction underpins every element of our approach to tackling this complex issue.

"That is why we are already cracking down on the most serious drugs, working with countries around the world, such as Columbia, to prevent drugs reaching the UK and empowering communities to work with the police to tackle drugs through Neighbourhood Policing.

"However, we are not complacent; communities do not want to be blighted by the effects of drug misuse and drug dealing, and that is why police, local authorities and communities must continue to work together so that our streets and communities can be free from the crime and anti-social behaviour they cause."