THE PHONEY WAR ON DRUGS
FAILURE OF GOVERNMENT DRUG POLICY IS EXPOSED
The government has repeatedly declared that it is fighting a "war on drugs". But Kathy Gyngell shows that this has been a facade, in The Phoney War on Drugs, published today by the Centre for Policy Studies.
Indeed, the UK now has one of the most liberal drug policies in Europe. Both Sweden and the Netherlands, despite popular misconceptions, have a more rigorous approach – and far fewer problems with drugs.
Drug death rates continue to rise and are far higher than the European average. The UK has 47.5 deaths per million population (aged 15 to 64) compared to 22.0 in Sweden and 9.6 in the Netherlands. There are over 10 problem drug ssers (PDUs) per 1,000 of the adult population, compared to 4.5 in Sweden or 3.2 in the Netherlands.
Click here for the full 82-page Phoney War on Drugs pdf from the Centre for Policy Studies. For highlights, read on…
Gyngell's report shows how the Labour government has taken a new direction for drug policy. Its new “harm-reduction” strategy aimed to reduce the cost of problem drug use. The focus was switched from combating all illicit drug use to the problems of PDUs. Cannabis was declassified. Spending on methadone 'treatment' increased threefold between 2003 and 2008. Treatment for drug offenders was redefined as being no longer abstinence but management of their addiction with the aim of reducing their reoffending. In practice, this meant prescribing methadone.
"This harm-reduction approach, at the expense of others, has failed. It has entrapped 147,000 people in state sponsored (mainly methadone) addiction," Gyngell writes. "The numbers emerging from government treatment programmes are at the same level as if there had been no treatment programme at all."
WEAK ENFORCEMENT AND PREVENTION
The UK drugs market is estimated to be worth £5billion a year. In comparison, the government is spending only £380 million a year – or 28% of the total drugs budget – attempting to control the supply of drugs (over £800 million is spent on treatment programmes and reducing drug-related crime). Only five boats now patrol the UK’s 7,750 mile coastline.
The numbers of recorded offences for importing, supply and possession of illicit drugs have all fallen over the last 10 years. At the same time, seizures of drugs have fallen and drug prices have dropped to record low. The quantity of heroin, cocaine and cannabis that has been seized coming into the UK has fallen by 68%, 16% and 34% respectively (the recent announcement by SOCA of record cocaine seizures should be treated with great caution).
Both Sweden and the Netherlands have far more coherent and effective drugs policies. These are based on the enforcement of the drug laws (unlike in the UK, most of the drugs budget in both countries is spent on prevention and enforcement); the prevention of all illicit drug use; and the provision of addiction care.
• focus on the illicit use of all drugs, not the harms caused by drug use;
• abandon the harm reduction approach;
• develop treatment support aimed at abstinence and rehabilitation;
• include a far tougher, better-funded enforcement programme to reduce the supply of drugs.
1. The full report can be downloaded here.
2. Kathy Gyngell chaired and authored the Addictions Reports of the Social Justice Policy Review for the Conservative Party, published in Breakdown Britain in December 2006 and Breakthrough Britain in July 2007. She is chair of the Prisons and Addictions Policy Forum at the CPS. She was also the co-author with Ray Lewis of From Latchkey to Leadership: Channelling the Talents of Inner City Youth.