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LETTERS: Realistic response to drug use

From Mr Roger Howard

Sir: The rise in young people's drug use ("A generation that sees drugs as no big deal", 25 July) rightly prompts urgent reconsideration of the relevance of the "criminal" tag to, in some areas, the majority of young people. It also demands a more realistic response to the minority of young people who will not grow out of drug use and may go on to develop long- term problems.

Howard Parker's research findings of widespread recreational drug use reinforce the current mismatch between expert opinion and the Government's policy on punishing drug users. The Association of Chief Police Officers has called for the diversion of young people from prosecution through the increased use of cautioning, but there is worrying evidence of a recent sharp increase in arrests and searches. Wide variations in individual police force policies also create a lottery of responses to young people doing what nearly half perceive as part of normal life.

Sadly, our members report that increasing numbers of young people are seeking their services for treatment and care for drug problems. With the number of addicts now rising at over 20 per cent per annum, the demand for services is also outstripping resources.

Creative solutions are needed. One such is for the Government to break its silence on recycling the seized assets of drug dealers, and to move these directly into effective treatment, care and education services. As well as diverting normal young people out of the criminal justice system, we need to divert Government funds into areas where drug issues are really hurting.

Yours faithfully,

Roger Howard

Chief Executive

Standing Conference on

Drug Abuse

London, SE1

25 July