Letter: Not every user is an addict, nor every addict a thief

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Sir: Your excellent special report, 'Britain's drugs crisis' (2 March), repeats Labour's claim that 40 per cent of property crime is attributable to drug addicts. This is an alarming, but speculative, figure not supported by solid evidence.

The House of Commons Social Services Committee concluded in 1985 that, 'heroin does not automatically induce criminal or anti-social behaviour'. Yet the 40 per cent claim closely ties addiction to criminality, risking the implication that addicts should be dealt with in the same way that we treat other criminals - with custody and fines. To do so would be

disastrous.

Drug use is a crime, but not every drug user is an addict. Nor is every addict a thief. To paint addiction as the cause of 40 per cent of all property crime, therefore, will make it more difficult to focus on the need to treat addiction rather than to punish it. Drug addiction itself is not a crime: it is a condition which can and should be treated medically outside the criminal justice system.

Drugs look likely to replace young hoodlums as the 'crime issue' of 1994. The atmosphere of hysteria which surrounded juvenile crime last year, as well as 'joyriding' and dangerous dogs in each of the two previous years, led in all of these cases to hurried, reactive legislation which is failing to yield significant positive benefits.

We must not succumb to such a panic in this debate. Hysteria drove the drugs debate in the United States in the 1980s, producing a largely wasted dollars 3bn law enforcement effort. Lee Brown, President Clinton's national drugs adviser, has said: 'We cannot succeed in this effort by declaring war on our citizens.' These are wise words, which we should heed.

Yours sincerely,

ROBERT MACLENNAN

MP for Caithness and Sutherland (Lib Dem)

House of Commons

London, SW1

2 March

The writer is Liberal Democrat spokesman on Home Affairs.

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