The government’s anti-drugs policy has failed and the UK has more drug-related problems than Holland, the Centre for Policy Studies has said in a new report ‘The Phoney War on Drugs’.
The report said the government has deliberately shifted from tackling illegal drug use to cutting the cost of drug use, looking more at managing the addition of problem drug users (PDUs) rather than helping them to stop. Cannabis was declassified and spending on methadone treatment increased threefold between 2003 and 2008. The result is that 147,000 people have become trapped in state-sponsored (mainly methadone) addiction. Addicts leaving government treatment programmes clean of drug use are at the same level as if there had been no treatment programme at all, the report said.
It added that over the last 10 years, Class A consumption and ‘problem drug use’ have risen dramatically, drug use has spread to rural areas and the age of children’s initiation into drugs has dropped. Now, 41 per cent of 15 year olds and 11 per cent of 11 year olds have taken drugs. Meanwhile, 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. And there are over 10 PDUs per 1000 of the adult population, compared to 4.5 in Sweden and 3.2 in Holland.
The report’s author Kathy Gyngell said that the UK drugs market is reckoned to be worth £5bn a year but the government is only spending £380m a year to control the supply of drugs while over £800m is spent on treatment programmes and reducing drug-related crime. Just five boats now patrol the UK’s 7,750 mile coastline.
Also, the number of recorded offences for importing, supply and possession of illicit drugs has fallen over the last 10 years, drug seizures have fallen and drug prices have dropped to an all-time low. The quantity of heroin, cocaine and cannabis that has been seized coming into the UK has fallen by 68 per cent, 16 per cent and 34 per cent respectively.
The difference in Sweden and Holland, the report said, is that all illegal drug use is targeted, treatment is aimed at breaking addiction, and drug laws are clearly understood and enforced. Also, most of the drugs budget in both countries is spent on prevention and enforcement. The Centre for Policy Studies called on the UK to follow suit.