PM's drug report shifts focus to 'high harm' users

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Drug addicts who steal, burgle and mug people to feed their habit may be targeted by police and forced to undergo rehabilitation following a drug policy rethink devised by Tony Blair's personal think-tank.

A confidential report by the Prime Minister's strategy unit says the Government should shift its energy to combating "high harm-causing users" who are responsible for thousands of crimes.

The paper, prepared after more than a year of research, says that removing the estimated 250,000 drug addicts who commit crimes from the streets and drug dens should be a top priority for the Government. It also recommends that addicts who commit crimes to fuel their habit should be forced to take treatment if they refuse voluntary rehabilitation.

The importance of the project to Mr Blair is demonstrated by the involvement of Lord Birt, the former director general of the BBC and the Prime Minister's "blue skies thinker", who has played an advisory role on the drugs report.

The research will inform the next stage of a drugs policy to be framed by David Blunkett, the Home Secretary. Yet the paper, which analyses the UK drugs scene from supply to end use, concludes that arresting drug dealers may not cut drug related crime.

Although the price may increase if supply is limited, that would not stop hard-core heroin and crack cocaine addicts using drugs. But it could lead them to commit more crimes or turn to drug dealing to pay for their habit. The research predicts that crimes such as burglary, shoplifting, car theft, mugging and assault could be prevented if the problem of addicts who turn to crime to pay for drugs is tackled.

A government source said: "The emphasis is on high harm drug users and getting them off the street. The analysis shows that market intervention doesn't work and they just commit more crimes to pay for drugs."

The report, prepared in consultation with the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister, emphasises the role for the police and the courts in tackling drug-fuelled crime. They should swiftly identify offenders who take drugs and ensure they are treated for their habit either in prison or while serving a sentence in the community. They should also receive continued help to keep them away from drugs after release.

Mr Blair wants to cut drug related crime by 25 per cent by 2005 and halve it by 2008.

But the report is seen as too sensitive to publish. It is expected to cause controversy among charities helping addicts who say addiction is a medical problem that cannot be adequately treated by the criminal justice system. It will also raise questions about whether there are enough places in rehabilitation centres.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister's strategy unit said that, unlike other reports it produces, the paper would not be made public. He added that he could not comment on its contents or Lord Birt's role, which he said was not a "formal" one. "Lord Birt is the Prime Minister's strategy adviser and works across a range of areas. The drugs project is a private piece of work."

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