This quote sprang to mind when I saw The Independent's front page this morning. POLICE CHIEF CALLS FOR HEROIN TO BE AVAILABLE ON THE NHS. The strapline read - Addicts should be given drugs on prescription to stop them turning to crime, says Britain's most senior officer. The senior officer is question is the President of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), Ken Jones.
Call me old fashioned, but I have a zero tolerance of drugs. I left a party once when I saw someone smoking a joint. It's just the way I am. So I am all in favour of fighting a so-called war on the wretched things. But I do keep asking myself the question: is the war on drugs winnable?
Seventy per cent of crime in urban areas is now drug related. So should we start thinking the unthinkable and actually doing what Ken Jones is suggesting? I still can't quite bring myself to advocate it, but the fact that I can even treat such a suggestion seriously shows how the debate has moved on. Here's Ken Jones justification...
"I was a drugs officer and we have to be realistic. There is a hardcore minority
who are not in anyway shape or form anxious to come off drugs. They think 'I am
going to go out there and steal, rob, burgle and get the money to buy it'. What
are we going to do - say 'OK we are going to try and contain this by normal
criminal justice methods' and fail, or are we going to look at doing something
different? Start being a bit more innovative. It is about looking at things in a
different way without turning away completely from the current position."
He added that drug prices in some areas of the UK had reached a historic low, which
he conceded was a good indicator that drugs were readily available.
He said: "I am not in any shape or form a legaliser, but what I am concerned with is that we have to shape up to some tough realities. We don't have enough treatment
places for those who want to go on them. What we need is a cross-party consensus
which considers the overwhelming public view to be tough on the roots of drugs,
as well as treating its victims."
Studies on heroin prescription in the Netherlands and Switzerland found significant reductions in illicit drug use among those receiving the treatment. Both the Swiss and Dutch reported a drop in the crimes committed by their addicts. The widespread prescription of heroin in Britain was phased out in the 1960s. GPs in England and Wales have the legal power to prescribe heroin, but do so extremely rarely. The UK has 327,466 hardcore "problem drug users" who are regularly using either heroin, crack or cocaine. A report by Glasgow University last year found that fewer than 4 per cent of heroin addicts beat their habit with methadone. There are an estimated 40,000 problem heroin users using methadone.
Mr Jones said that he knew of one region where many years ago doctors had prescribed heroin to try to deal with problem addicts. "There are junkies who are alive today who would have been dead now," he said. "Their lives are stable, yes, their addiction is being maintained, but far better they are being maintained than them trying to get their fix off the street from crime. Heroin is an incredible stimulator of crime and I think we are foolish if we don't acknowledge that."
Up to now I have always taken the view that if you can deal with the dealers and the traffickers you should be able to keep the drug problem at manageable levels. But the trouble is we have failed in that and the drugs which are coming into the country are very different and far stronger than they used to be. That does not mean to say we shouldn't redouble our efforts to bang up the dealers for a very long time, but at the moment they are not deterred. the likelihood of being caught is fairly minimal and the sentencing is sometimes laughable.
So what do you think? Do we need to take a radically different approach to the war on drugs?