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
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Female Care Worker

£7 - £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This expanding, vibrant charity which su...

Recruitment Genius: Parts Supervisor & Advisor - Automotive

£16500 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's leading...

Recruitment Genius: Housing Assistant

£16819 - £21063 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Account Manager - OTE £60,000

£35000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In 2014, they launched the worl...

Day In a Page

Read Next
People struggle to board a train at the railway station in Budapest  

Even when refugees do make it to British soil, they are treated appallingly

Maya Goodfellow
 

Daily catch-up: immigration past and present, in Europe and in America

John Rentoul
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones