Tuesday, 15 September 2009

New approach needed on drugs

I have long believed that we, as a nation (and probably worldwide), need to take a different approach to drugs based on reducing crime and minimising harm. At least half of all crime is thought to be drug-related, especially at the more violent end.

A very interesting article then from the BBC today about how a trial project with heroin users seems to have worked very well. The trial operated in London, Darlington and Brighton. It found that by providing heroin to addicts in supervised clinics they radically reduced the harm to the individuals (by taking them off unsafe street heroin) and cut crime in the area - 1,731 offences in a month down to 547 in six months! They also worked to help solve some of the personal issues that had led the people to drugs in the first place.

I know that this sort of approach will stick in the craw of many people, especially those with a more reactionary view of drugs and an over-optimistic opinion of the Police's ability to prevent supply. This isn't an easy problem and we haven't got it right up to now. Maybe this sort of approach - a liberal approach - is the right way forwards. I'd certainly like to see Bristol give it a go. On top of everything else, it is cheaper to the public purse.


Al Shaw said...

The issue of drugs and the law is typically either a "punitive" approach or a "liberal" one along the lines of some continental countries.

Portugal has, I think, pioneered a genuine third way, and its experience warrants further investigation. Introduction via the link.


Neil Harrison said...

Al - thanks for the link! I'm hoping that we can look at lots of different options from the drugs-are-bad and addicts-are-evil certainties that dominate the political discourse.

Neil Harrison said...

I attended a session on drugs policy on Sunday night at Lib Dem party conference. The experience of Portugal was discussed in some detail and the results are quite stunning really. No growth in drugs usage overall and significant decline among some age groups, plus a drop in the number of people involved. It reaffirmed my personal belief that we need a real look at this - the current approach wastes money, causes crime and ruins lives.