Give addicts heroin on the NHS to stop gangs profiting from drugs, says top police officer

Durham Chief Constable Mike Barton says UK has not learned the lessons from history over prohibition

A senior police officer has called for an end to criminalising drug addicts, warning that the UK has “comprehensively failed” to win the war on drugs.

Mike Barton, Durham’s Chief Constable, said that using the NHS, or a similar institution, to supply addicts with drugs would stop the flow of billions of pounds to organised crime gangs.

Barton, one of the North of England’s most experienced crimefighters, described how in County Durham there are 43 organised crime groups on his team’s radar and “most of them have their primary source of income in illicit drugs supply; all of them are involved in some way.”

Writing in The Observer, he stated that The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 has not had the impact that legislators intended, and throughout his 34 years of service he has seen politicians, professionals and the media “collude in the fiction” that prohibition is successful. He has warned of the dangers of not learning from the history of prohibition, comparing the situation in the UK to the infamous 1920s prohibition era in America, and the “sinister rise” of Al Capone’s Mob.

Instead, he claimed that “people who encourage others to take drugs by selling them are the criminals. But addicts need to be treated, cared for and encouraged. They do not need to be criminalised.”

“If you started to give a heroin addict the drug therapeutically, we would not have the scourge of hepatitis C and HIV spreading among needle users. I am calling for a controlled environment, not a free-for-all.”

Barton is a pioneer of initiatives, including his force’s “Operations Sledgehamer” which has broken up criminal networks in County Durham. During his tenure there has been a recorded 14 per cent drop in total crime figures in his region.

He argued that decriminalising drugs will not only cut off the income of drug gangs, but also their power to become “local heroes and role models” to local young people who admire their wealth.

Highlighting the problem of alcohol dependency in the UK, he expressed his disappointment that the Coalition government had not followed through with its support for a minimum price of alcohol.

He expressed his concern that cheap alcohol “akin to industrial ethanol” contributes to a “social tolerance of excessive drinking” and the cost of drug addiction is pale in comparison to the problems with alcohol. 

“While having a drink was once only one part of socialising, many people now believe that the only purpose in going out of an evening is “to get smashed”. My argument for decriminlaising drugs may seem paper-thin when one considers that alcohol is legal and yet extremely damaging. What I am saying is we need to have a more honest debate”.

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