How Britain failed to kick its drug problem

Labour admits it is no closer to beating addiction and crime despite 13 years of trying

Labour has failed to tackle properly the scourge of drug abuse in Britain, an influential House of Commons report says today.

Measures to reduce drug use by young offenders have had only limited impact and ministers admit that they still do not know how best to combat the wider problems associated with addiction and crime.

The cross-party Public Accounts Committee (PAC) described the Government's failure to evaluate the success or failure of its £1.2bn-a-year strategy as "unacceptable". The MPs found there were 330,000 problem users of heroin and crack cocaine who cost society £15bn a year, with crime accounting for £13.9bn of that.

But in their report, the MPs said the Home Office did not know whether a cross-Whitehall strategy launched in 2008 had reduced the cost of crimes committed by problem drug users. Nor could it "prove a causal link between the measures in the strategy and the levels of offending by problem drug users", the PAC said.

Worryingly, the report said that one quarter of all problem drug users were hard-core offenders for whom drug treatment was ineffective and whose offending had increased sharply after entering treatment. The committee concluded: "We consider that measures to reduce problem drug use by young people have had limited impact.

"Preventing young people from becoming problem drug users is important in bringing down the future number of problem drug users and the associated costs to society."

One recommendation in "hard cases" of addiction was to make greater use of residential rehabilitation, it said. But the report found that a long-stay treatment centre in Lincolnshire had recently been closed in line with the strategy of the Department for Children, Schools and Families in order to provide services for young people in the community.

Last month, Sir David Normington, the permanent secretary at the Home Office, told the PAC the Government had improved its work on maintaining the treatment of offenders. He said: "We are getting much better at keeping people in drug treatment and then meeting them at the prison gates and continuing them in treatment as they come out of prison, which is essential."

The Home Office has agreed from next year to publish annual reports on its progress in implementing the 10-year strategy. Edward Leigh, the PAC chairman, said: "Drug-related offending is inflicting a trail of misery on our communities. There are around a third of a million problem drug users in England who are costing society an estimated £15bn a year, mainly as a result of their criminal activity. And fully one quarter of all problem drug users are hard-core offenders for whom drug treatment is ineffective and, indeed, whose offending has sharply increased after entering treatment."

Martin Barnes, the chief executive of the charity DrugScope, said: "The links between problem drug use and crime can be complex but it is concerning that there is insufficient evidence to confirm whether the drug strategy is directly reducing the cost of drug-related crime."

However, he said it was unclear whether the committee's conclusions were focused primarily on heroin and crack cocaine or other drug use.

Case study: 'The agency is helping me get my life back'

'Ruth Smith', 45

"I got into drugs when I was 25, just smoking resin [hash] then within a year I had become 'hardcore' by injecting myself with heroin. All I did for 20 years was take 'brown' and all sorts of other drugs: amphetamines, valium amps, ketamine, coke, crack and heroin.

"In 2000 my husband was given six months to live because of liver damage, so we both gave up injecting and stuck to methadone linctus, and because of that he ended up living another six years. When he died I was so distraught that I went back to injecting brown again.

"I volunteered to go to a treatment centre as part of a contract to keep my council tenancy. One of the orders was to attend an agency for addressing my drug issues. I have stopped injecting for five months now. I now feel in a better place and my confidence has grown. The agency is helping me get my life back."

* Ruth's name has been changed

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Property Negotiator - OTE £20,000+

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'