Leading article: Our nation is hooked on the failed drug policies of the past

The ramifications of Britain's growing rates of drug addiction should not be underestimated

Share

The tragic death of Andreas Embiricos that we reported this week is a vivid illustration of the damage that hard drugs inflict. This death, when viewed alongside more than 700 others each year as a result of heroin, gives the lie to any suggestion that the authorities are loosening the grip of hard drugs on our society. When the Misuse of Drugs Act, which outlawed the provision of heroin on medical prescription, was passed in 1971, there were only 1,000 registered users in the UK. Today, the number of heroin addicts is estimated at 300,000. After three and half decades of policies designed to clamp down on the supply of narcotics and criminalise users, all we have seen is an astonishing rise in the number of people suffering addiction.

These figures should shame society into a more mature approach. Much greater resources must be invested in tackling demand for hard drugs, rather than just supply. Four years ago, a House of Commons select committee recommended establishing a pilot programme of public rooms for heroin addicts that would allow users to inject hard drugs without fear of arrest. And a newly released report by Lord Birt, until recently the Prime Minister's personal strategy adviser, recommended increasing the provision of free heroin by the NHS. There is no shortage of progressive ideas; the problem is a Government loath to implement them for fear of being labelled "soft" on drugs.

A more liberal approach has been shown to work. Trials of "shooting galleries" in the Netherlands, Germany and Australia have improved the health of heroin users and cut the number of overdoses. In such centres, health specialists provide users with access to methadone and treatment regimes to help them kick the addiction. There is every reason to believe that equally determined efforts to get people off hard drugs here in Britain would bear fruit.

We should remember that it is not just drug addicts themselves who suffer as a result of the Government's refusal to adopt a more progressive policy. It is estimated that £21bn a year in damage is caused by drugs users, whether though the destructive rages of crack addicts, or shoplifting by heroin users attempting to get enough money for their next fix. Some social workers reckon that every pound spent on treatment saves £3 in the court system.

Liberalisation has been shown to work for other chronic social problems. As the police are fond of telling us, most violent crime on British streets is a result of drink. Home Office figures released this week showed that the relaxation of the drinking laws, enabling pubs to stagger their closing times, has been accompanied by a reduction in violent crime on many of Britain's streets. Liberalisation of the drug laws would have a similarly profound effect on the quality of life in this country.

Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, this week accepted the need to reduce our record-high prison population. A more sensible drugs policy would go a long way towards achieving this. Offering addicts the option of treatment rather than jail would reduce, at a stroke, the number of prisoners and cut the number of re-offenders. While Mr Clarke's recent flip-flop over the classification of cannabis was disconcerting, he did the right thing in the end. Now that the Tory leader, David Cameron, has indicated that he will not adopt the hard-line approach of his predecessors, the opportunity to pursue a bipartisan way forward must not be missed.

The ramifications of Britain's growing rates of drug addiction should not be underestimated. It is in all of our interests that we ditch the failed policies of the past and take serious action to break the lethal hold of hard drugs over Britain.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Content and PR

£35000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - Mid / Senior

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing digital agenc...

Recruitment Genius: E-commerce Partnerships Manager

£50000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a newly-created partne...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Zoe Sugg, aka Zoella, with her boyfriend, fellow vlogger Alfie Deyes  

If children are obese then blame food manufacturers, not Zoella

Jane Merrick
Amos Yee arrives with his father at the State courts in Singapore on March 31  

Singapore's arrest of a 16-year-old YouTuber is all you need to know about Lee Kuan Yew's legacy

Noah Sin
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor