Friday, July 24, 2009

Horrfying Figures on Cocaine Use

I may be very naive but I find it truly shocking that nearly one million people in this country are cocaine users. Seven per cent of 16-24 year olds use the drug.There has been a 375% rise in the number of under 18s being treated in hospital for cocaine use. Ten per cent of adults expect to take cocaine at some point in their lives. Living where I live and working where I work, that probably means that 20% of the people I know have taken cocaine. All this reminded me of part of the Jacqui Smith interview which didn't make the final edit.

ID: Drugs policy has been a disaster for years hasn’t it? The fact is, we have more drugs on our streets now than ever before.

JS: No we don’t. What we have is less drug use in both adults and young people – it might not be the perceived wisdom but all the research in all the surveys suggested that that’s the case. We have massively more people going through drug treatment, we have just in the last few months a very big increase in the wholesale price of cocaine because of the success we are having downstream in cutting off the supply so I think actually funnily enough one of the things that I looked at towards the end of the time that I was Home Secretary was what the impact of the drugs strategy had been because we had a 10 year drug strategy and one of the things I did quite soon after becoming Home Secretary was we had the next drugs consultation and then the next drugs strategy. I think we have been more successful than your question would suggest, but it remains one of those things the people are extremely concerned about maybe because you worry and, as the mother of a teenager, I worry, about drugs and alcohol and you worry that it fuels crime as well and it is something out of control. The reality is that it’s not as out of control as people fear and I think we’ve got a handle now on what we need to do to control it and to keep it down.


I don't mind admitting that I am a complete prude where drugs are concerned. I have never taken an illegal drug and will never do so. It's never wise for someone with a vaguely addictive personality to put themselves into that situation! But everyone has to answer for their own actions and their own lifestyle. No one will ever win a war on drugs. All government can do is try to limit supply and educate people about the disastrous consequences of taking all drugs, not just class A substances.

There is of course a school of thought that says that all drugs should be legalised and that would lead to a decline in their use. Alan Duncan argued that in his book Saturn's Children. Whatever the merits of that argument I cannot think that any UK political party would ever adopt such a policy.

Mind you, I'd have said the same thing about legalising gay adoption a decade ago...

UPDATE: A reader has suggested I ask my blog readers about their use of cocaine. Take the survey...

52 comments:

Lord Snooty said...

Yes, you are very naive on this, Iain. Go and have a look at the excellent website for Transform ( www.tdpf.org.uk ) and you'll see that for the first and only time in his life Alan Duncan is right.

Anonymous said...

I'd be really interested to know how many of your readers have used cocaine in the last year. Why not run an anonymous survey?

Lord Snooty said...

I think from memory that you're a teetotaller. But have you ever drunk alcohol? Objectively, there's not a great deal of difference between booze, smack or coke in terms of the damage they can do (google 'David Nutt Lancet' for a fantastic little article on this).

Oliver Drew said...

I'm surprised the government hasn't legalised all drugs yet - can you imagine the tax revenues they could generate?!

Personally I'm a bit like you Iain, a bit of a "prude" when it comes to drugs - never taken any illegal drugs, never will (never even smoked).

The problem with the current system is the exceptions - such as alcohol and nicotine, which would never be made legal now if they were illegal...that is always the argument that you have to answer when defending the illegal status of drugs (especially Cannabis)...I tend to think that if something can kill you just by taking a relatively small amount then it's a bad thing to do...so even if they were legal I still wouldn't take them.

This has turned into something of a meandering comment - but suffice it to say that aside from the bungled changes to the classification of Cannabis, I don't think the government have done bad with drugs over the last 12 years.

Sceptical Steve said...

"We have massively more people going through drug treatment, we have just in the last few months a very big increase in the wholesale price of cocaine because of the success we are having downstream in cutting off the supply so I think actually funnily enough one of the things that I looked at towards the end of the time that I was Home Secretary was what the impact of the drugs strategy had been because we had a 10 year drug strategy and one of the things I did quite soon after becoming Home Secretary was we had the next drugs consultation and then the next drugs strategy."

Surely this single rambling sentence strongly suggests substance abuse?

What a chilling thought. A substance-abusing Home Sec and her self-abusing husband.

Chalcedon said...

Ah, but all these drugs, at least the non-synthetic ones, were all perfectly legal once and the country did not wallow in drug abuse. Indeed citizens were encouraged to send a pack of recreational drugs to our brave lads at the front during WWI. Heroin only became illegal in 1956. Prior to this there were about 35 addicts, several of them doctors. Why are they illegal? Because of puritanical abolitionist groups of course. The same groups that got booze banned in the USA. Making drugs illegal took them from the pharmaceutical industry and gave them to organised crime. All because of bunch of activists and extremists. Sadly government policy for the past 85 or so years has been to swamp the people with propaganda demonising these compounds. They are not in themselves any more dangerous than therapeutic pharmaceuticals, if you know what you are doing when and how you take them. Forbidden fruit is always popular as is being a rebel when you are young. Strangely enough smoking opium makes smokers docile, compliant and passive.

No government of the mainstream parties would have the balls to sweep propaganda aside and return these compounds to the status they once enjoyed and to restore choice to adults (there are always abusers of anything in our society of course) as well as killing 60% or more of crime at a stroke and making it much harder for organised crime to make money.

Lots of people die from prescription drugs every year. We don't ban them unless the clinical trials say they are not as good as current therapies or the adverse reactions are deemed unacceptable.

I most certainly do not take such drugs but I think every adult should have the choice in the matter.

Mark M said...

It's not necessarily that drug-use would drop if they were legalised, but the fact that people who want to take drugs will do whether they are illegal or not. If you understand that you don't stop something by making it illegal you realise that most of the harm that comes from drugs (i.e. drug related crime, poorly made product that is dangerous) is precisely because they are illegal.

Do you think that people would stop drinking alcohol if it were made illegal? Or would it just push it underground where all sorts of other problems arise (again, dangerously made poor quality stuff).

It's actually likely that drug use would increase if it were made legal, but drug related crime would be much reduced. As it is really no business of the state to tell me whether to consume chemicals or not I think it would be a worthwhile tradeoff.

Or to put it another way, how much is spent fighting drugs and has it been successful?

Richard Gadsden said...

The Lib Dems do have a formal policy that we'd like to legalise cannabis - what it says is we'd hold a Royal Commission to work out how to do it in a managed and controlled fashion.

canvas said...

Most people I know have had a line of coke at some stage of theirs lives. I've watched brilliant people destroy their lives because of cocaine addiction. It's really sad but inevitable...if you dabble you take that chance.

Far worse is heroin - thank you taliban.

Cocaine is the definitely the middle class choice of drug and it turns lovely people into monsters.

There is no quick fix or easy answer. why do you think they call it dope? Tread carefully...

The best way to turn young people off taking drugs is to have their role models speak out against it - but then watch out for the hyposcrites...

Jim Millen said...

...and educate people about the disastrous consequences of taking all drugs, not just class A substances.

I can't help feeling that this is part of the problem. The simple fact is that for a large percentage - I would guess, a majority - of people who use drugs, there simply aren't disastrous consequences, or even unpleasant ones.

I would feel a lot happier about it if you'd referred to the consequences of abusing drugs. This is far more realistic and chimes with general social opinions on legal drugs. Few people would complain if you have a few glasses of wine with dinner. But if you let yourself drink too much and cause a nuisance, then people will rightly object. Is it the alcohol at fault here, or the individual who chooses to consume it?

So I find it very hard to take seriously policies that treat certain drugs as pure evil, whilst accepting others as perfectly ok. I suspect I'm not the only one! I'd far rather see a sensible education programme, that actually encouraged personal responsibility, rather than a blanket "Drugs are Bad!" approach.

Anonymous said...

I don't mind admitting that I am a complete prude where drugs are concerned. I have never taken an illegal drug and will never do so.

I've never taken any illegal drugs either (nor much alcohol nor even cigarettes) but I generally applied a libertarian approach (basically, let the stupid fuckers kill themselves if they want - it's none of my business). That was until I actually lived in Latin America for a while and saw up close and personal just how much evil the international narcotics trade perpetuates.

Taking a line of coke may be a harmless thing for most users. In fact, if Dave Cameron came home and had a line of coke instead of a G&T, it probably wouldn't even be noticeable. But when you buy coke, you put money into the pockets of terrorists and murderers, traffickers and bombers; you fund civil war in Colombia and pay for bullets to murders policemen and border guards in Peru and Bolivia; you are responsible, however indirectly, for the ongoing murder of Mexican police and federal agents.

Obviously, a lot of people will respond to my objections by stating that this is a consequence of the drug trade's illegality and that, were it legalised, these problems would fade away. I don't disagree but I do say that narcotics are currently illegal and that the drug trade is currently controlled by terrorists. Any money you spend on drugs goes to those terrorists. If there comes a time when drug prohibition ends (something I would support), I will have no objection to anyone coking themselves up to the eyeballs. Right now, though, it's illegal. Right now, the money goes to terrorists.

Cocaine use is not a victimless crime. People just think it is because the victims are conveniently out of sight thousands of miles away.

Keiko said...

It shouldn't come as a surprise, we are living through the final days of the British Empire. No more world power, no more welfare state, families are splintered. Thud! We are hitting the charlie.

Patrick said...

Legalisation. Iain said: "I cannot think that any UK political party would ever adopt such a policy"

Yes, they would. The arguments in favour are compelling; as a prior poster said, check out the information @ Transform.

Rab C. Nesbitt said...

Legalise the lot. End of story.

Anonymous said...

Sadly Iain, your views here exhibit the kind of paternalism that puts me off the Consersatives.

Why not just recognise that some people will always live their lives in ways which you might not approve of? As a gay man, you ought to be more aware than most of the dangers of legislation driven by moral panics.

In any case, how can prohibition be justified when alcohol - which is far more damaging than most +illegal+ drugs - is freely available?

And now, with the economy falling round our ears (thanks Gordon), does the present war on drug users even pass the cost-benefit test? Surely, it is significant that the Home Office consistently refuses to carry out any such analysis...

Thats News said...

Cocaine use up after 12 years of Blair/Brown, Norwich Nasty for New Labour, Brazil complains on illegal UK dumping, Brown still thinks it’s A-OK. But it’s not...

Chris Paul said...

Only 20%? Ever? You're dreaming.

Anonymous said...

Now this is the sort of poll where you really do need anonimity.

Actually - those of us who work on Government contracts are well advised to use anonymous comment regularly, so please don't remove it.

Legalising drugs is not the answer, society cannot deal with the effects of alcohol and tobacco, never mind mind altering substances and other modern chemicals.

Obsidian said...

Not sure what planet Jacqui Smith lives on, I've seen - over the last decade - drugs blossom in city centres (I frequent Manchester, London and Glasgow) and make massive headway into the countryside.

I'm very much on the edge of drug culture - I may indulge in a little weed once a year - but several of my friends are very much regular users, and seeing how wide usage has become I can safely say drugs use has exploded since the mid 90's.

Clubs rarely call in the police if drugs are found, the person just gets hoofed out and barred for 6 months or so, through fear of driving away customers and attracting the interest of licencing committees as arrests at their venues rocketed.

As with cocaine itself, I know several users - including people in the legal profession (I'm aware of a solicitor who now also does prostitution to fund her addiction) - and the majority handle it very well.

The whole industry needs legalizing, but governments won't for fear of having accurate numbers of users - it would highlight the disparity between the numbers the government likes to push out and the truth.

Nick Thornsby said...

I don't think people argue that decriminalising drugs (or some of them) would necessarily lead to a reduction in their use.

However it would save money because of the billions of billions of pounds spent enforcing prohibition and dealing with the criminal consequences that result from forcing an industry 'underground'.

It may well also save the NHS money because of the amount spent on treating those who accidentally overdose or take drugs that have been cut with dangerous materials.

And, of course, there would be tax revenues from the legal sale of drugs.

I share your belief that it's unlikely for any political party to even start such a debate. Not least because of the stranglehold that certain parts of the media have on the British public.

Chris Paul said...

Interesting point about the punctuation in the Smith interview extract. That is Iain's work. Most interviewees do not dictate "stop", "semi-colon", "comma".

It would be quite possible to sub that rather long sentence. Into several shorter sentences. Or indeed into clauses. Or sub-clauses. Etc.

Discuss.

Iain Dale said...

Thank you for that clever clogs insight Chris Paul. Strangely I only sub the bits of the interview I actually use in the magazine. This is a verbatim transcript.

Stevo Bevo said...

If you've tried cannabis once and not again, how do you answer question 2?

You don't use it regularly, nor do you use it occasionally. But you can't say you never use it because you once did.

sockpuppet said...

"Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results. "

variously attributed to Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein amongst others.

Whoever said it, it is an illustration of why prohibition, as a policy to control intoxicants, is not just a bad policy, nor merely wrong, but insane.

Sadly, no government has had the courage to change it.

Tomfiglio said...

Some very parochial views here...idiot cocaine use has caused irreparable damage to Colombian society. Ask anyone who is trying to live a normal life there what they think about complacent cocaine users in Europe and the US.

Steve Tierney said...

I suspect that the figures are actually far, far worse than even this suggests.

Mark Reckons said...

Iain, I am pleased to see you talking about this issue on your blog.

A lot of your commenters here have talked sense regarding the illegal status of drugs but I just wanted to pick on something that seems to be received wisdom but I think is not supported by the facts.

It is assumed that if drugs were made legal or decriminalised that consumption would go up. Organisations such as Transfrom (referenced in previous comments) have argued that this will not necessarily happen and that drug use is largely independent of the legislative situation.

As if to illustrate this, Portugal decriminalised all drugs 8 years ago and consumption has actually fallen, yes fallen by around 10% in that period.

I have done a blog post on this subject which I will be publishing soon. Have a look at the BBC's Mark Easton's report on this here as well.

Uncle Bob said...

Yes, I've tried coke and yes I have occasionally in the past smoked cannabis. It didn't turn me into a monster and it hasn't wrecked my life. I'm not saying everyone should go out and do it, but I'm not going to moralise either. The fact is that drug abuse tends to be the same as alcohol abuse. I like the occasional drink, but I could never live my life dependant on it and unlike a lot of people, alcohol never made me agressive either.

The most effective way to defeat drugs? Cut out the dealers and suppliers. Legalise it and regulate it through pharmaceutical means to ensure nothing harmful is added. Tax it to death (I mean treat it like a chainsmoking alcoholic motorist) and invest the tax receipts in treatment centres. There'll be a lot of moralising from certain sections of society but in the end it will be better for everyone. The war on drugs cannot be won (well, it can, but only for one side).

Anonymous said...

I think we should probably start making a distinction between recreational drugs (ecstasy, cocaine, cannabis) which can cause problems but generally speaking are used quite happily by large numbers of people leading normal lives and more dangerous drugs (heroin, crack-cocaine) which seem much more likely to cause major problems. Perhaps we should legalise some and then focus on the really damaging ones, although I appreciate this will almost certainly cause an increase in drug use generally and potentially increased social/health risks.

the man who fell back to bed said...

for me, to a degree, the whole 'should we legalise drugs' argument is irrelevant because you can still *get* them - supposedly illegal or not. and without hermetic border controls and strip searching every visitor to the UK, they always will be. and as one commentator has said, its not the use of drugs that is the problem but the *abuse*. if you legalise them, the problem would be brought under some kind of control, generate some tax revenue (quite a lot of revenue, I would imagine) and remove the vastly inflated profits (and so the motivation) that the dealers now make.
isnt it more sensible to co-operate with the inevitable?

Uncle Bob said...

Mark Reckons, yes I saw the BBC report on Portugal's policy recently. Take the criminal element out of it and it does seem to be better for everyone. All it takes is a few brave MP's to take a stand on this (Not just Paul Flynn).

Mark M said...

Mark Reckons

While I don't dispute the figures from Portugal, shouldn't we really be asking the question 'Does it matter if drug use increases upon legalisation?'

Of course we'd all like to see drug use drop, but you have to prepare for each scenario.

If you legalise and drug use drops then great. If it stays static then that's fine too. If it increases, then there's a grey area. Personally I feel that the benefit of reduced crime (nearly all crime these days can be traced back to drugs being illegal) is well worth the costs of a few people unable to exercise self-control. No doubt there are others who disagree.

Me vs Maradona vs Elvis said...

I don't agree that we can't win the war on drugs.

Britain can have as many drugs as its prepared to put up with on its streets. Massive investment in anti-drugs policing, more searches at ports and airports, and extremely strict exemplary sentences for drugs offences (automatic custodial sentence for possession of any illegal drug, life without parole for smuggling drugs into the country or into prison, extended sentences for crimes committed to fund drug habits etc) could all help.

Ridding this country of drugs is one of the main reasons I want to go into politics, and if I ever get near top it'll be top of my list!

Anonymous said...

The government claim that the "wholesale price of cocaine" had been driven up by government success in catching smugglers was utter nonsense.

The price went up because of the weak pound. Duh.


You should run this survey specifically for BBC staff. Bet their 'fair trade' ethics go straight out the window...

Me? Nothing, not even alcohol.

I wouldn't stop anyone else, though, so I'd be in favour if legalisation. It would reduce the collateral damage.

sobers said...

As a non smoking, non drinking, non drug taking person, I resent my taxes being spent on the consequences of illegal drug use - crime, prisons, anti drug campaigns, rehabilitation, NHS dealing with over doses etc etc. Why should I have to pay for the problems caused by others? Legalise the lot, and tax them to the hilt. Use the revenue to pay for the costs to society.

Mark Reckons said...

Mark M - You make an interesting point (although one which I have some trouble with personally), but your argument would require a much more mature debate in this country about drugs before nuance like that could be properly considered.

A better argument is that even if consumption went up under a decriminialised and regulated system (and bear in mind that the evidence suggests this is nowhere near a given anyway) the harm caused would certainly fall. That is another thing that is proved by Portugal's experiment. Illness and disease (and overdoses) associated with drug use all fell sharply because the users can be honest and open about what they are doing and can seek help properly without fear of being arrested and/or punished.

Anonymous said...

Portugal decriminalised drugs and it's been a stomping success.

I agree that no British political party would ever be bold enough to legalise drugs though, just as we'll never sort out prisons and all sorts of other problems - the British mentality is too prohibitive against good ideas. We like to spite ourselves.

Carl said...

Sceptical Steve said...
"Surely this single rambling sentence strongly suggests substance abuse?"

No evidence that Iain was on drugs. He just couldn't be bothered to put in the necessary punctuation.

Mark Reckons said...

In case anyone wishes to read it, here is my piece on Portugal's decrminialisation experiment which I referred to earlier. It has been published on The Wardman Wire this afternoon.

rented said...

"All government can do is try to limit supply and educate people about the disastrous consequences of taking all drugs, not just class A substances."


So government should educate with lies? "the disastrous consequences of taking all drugs" - eh? Talk about a wide sweeping (and factually bereft) statement.

Anonymous said...

It's troubling that, throughout this thread, commenters are larging glossing over the concrete problems in Latin America caused by drug trafficking and concentrating on issues of personal health.

Is this because drug users are too selfish to consider how their criminality affects other people or is it because none of them want to face up to the fact that they are funding war, terror and mass murder in a dozen countries in the western hemisphere?

Uncle Bob said...

Anonymous at 4:44, again this goes to the criminality issue. With legalisation the dependance on lawless south american cartels is diminished. The crop can be grown elsewhere and with the threat of illegality removed, so would the lawlessness of those nations. Don't forget how prohibition led to the vast expansion of the mafia in America. It is the same with drugs. By making them illegal you are funding a giant black economy and various criminal networks. I don't expect this to happen straight away but if the Portugese policy continues to prove successful then hopefully politicians here will take note.

Pat said...

Well its obvious that whatever the effects of the current drug laws, they have negligible effect on their availability and use. I guess that most non takers like me are non takers by choice. Clearly if we intend to eliminate drugs we need very intrusive policing, and the actual imposition of draconian penalties. I wonder how many people really think its sensible to lock people up longer for smoking a funny cigarette than for breaking someones legs? And that definitely includes the offspring of home secretaries. Or are we to re-introduce hanging drawing and quartering to restore the proportion? Not to mention the endless searches required for detection. And all this will cost many times the 9 or 10 billion we spend every year now- can we really afford that?
As others have commented the outlawing of drugs is a recent phenomenon- how did the human race survive before 1971?
Of course some may believe that criminals are far more trustworthy than any government approved body- hence the spending of £9 Bn pa to ensure only criminals can supply drugs. I'm old fashioned enough to believe that pharmacies would deliver a far more reliable product, and that it would be cheaper even including a tax than the current system. Plus of course overseas suppliers would have to go straight- the Taliban's smuggling skills would be redundant for example.
Finally may I remind everyone that it is only a couple of generations since homosexuality was an imprisonable offense. The prudes were wrong on that, really because they feared change. We have the example of all history, plus that of Portugal todqay, to show that legalisation works.

rented said...

People should be concerned about the wider consequences of personal cocaine use.

However, to suggest that the taking of "all drugs, all drugs, not just class A substances" results in "disastrous consequences" is nonsense. Class A substances include MDMA, which is artificially synthesised and needn't involve organised violent crime, is not physically addictive, and is quite safe to take compared to cocaine, heroin, speed, LSD and many legal medicines, as long as one isn't driving or doing anything else one oughtn't do while inebriated, for the safety of others.

Also, consider someone growing marijuana at home for personal use. With moderate, sensible use the most disastrous consequences they face is prosecution under stupid laws that should be reformed. That, and possibly lung cancer, but if that's what they're aiming for they could do it much more efficiently with legal cigarettes.

Anonymous said...

'Whatever the merits of that argument I cannot think that any UK political party would ever adopt such a policy.' Sums your attitude up Iain: politics is an end in itself.

Pat said...

Sorry, my last paragraph was a bit tart- but I still believe that there is better evidence that drugs can be legalised without problems, than there was two generations ago that homosexuality could be accepted without detriment to society. And I should point out that three generations ago no political party would consider accepting homosexuals, at least not openly.

Robin B'stard MP said...

Sorry Iain, too stoned to comment either way. I'll try again in the morning.....

Devil's Kitchen said...

Iain,

You may be interested in my (evidence-based) response to this post...

DK

Idle Pen Pusher said...

There really should be no debate on this issue.

I own my body. Not you or anyone else. I don't care how many others vote on what they may or may not permit me to put into it. They have no legitimacy. I own me. They cannot outvote me. Any anti-drugs law is fundamentally immoral and illegitimate.

And, as it happens, bound to make things worse anyway.

Frank Davis said...

I may be very naive...

You are very naive.

I never touch the stuff myself: It only ever gives me a runny nose.

Anonymous said...

Khat, a drug used by the Somali community, is legal in the UK, but illegal in most other countries, including Somalia. We don't here much about it here, yet in America is is involved in organised crime. Isn't this living proof that legalisation can work and be beneficial?
Fifteen years ago two officers in the Manchester Drug squad told me that all drugs should be legalised. They said the petty crime would disappear and the gangsters would move into armed robbery, with which they could deal with more easily.
Could it be that the smoking ban in pubs and and clubs is causing more young people to use less visible stimulants? I've never tried cocaine, but can imagine that during a long meeting, train or plane journey, it might take my mind off cigarettes.

Danny K said...

Iain,
"I cannot think that any UK political party would ever adopt such a policy"

1 The old liberal party already does
2 Ever is a very long time. It reminds me of Gordon Brown's declaration that "Drugs will never be decriminalised" as if that is in his gift.

My guess is that a number of political parties will begin to call for an end to the ultimate securitisation - the war on drugs - within the next few years. It is too expensive on virtually every indicator you care to mention.

We at Transform think we could put ourselves out of business, by helping to bring about legal markets by 2020.

It'd help if we began to assume that political parties should support legal markets, rather than assuming that they won't.