A NORTH-East police and crime commissioner (PCC) has called for the region to lead the nation on drug policy reform, saying there is now "overwhelming evidence" to support decriminalisation.
Durham PCC Ron Hogg claims the war on drugs has been lost and a new approach of helping rather than prosecuting addicts is needed.
Writing exclusively in The Northern Echo, Mr Hogg said evidence from the North-East and around the world showed that decriminalisation and supplying addicts with drugs like heroin on the NHS in so-called consumption rooms could dramatically reduce drug-related crime.
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He said: "Imagine a world with no heroin on our streets. No money for heroin being put in the hands of organised crime. No spread of HIV or hepatitis B/C through shared and dirty needles. No needles littering our streets. No fatal overdoses. No more pressure from organised criminals to remain addicted. No more theft or prostitution to feed drug habits. This is what decriminalisation could achieve."
Mr Hogg said evidence from the RIOTT (Randomised Injectable Opiates Treatment Trial) which took place in Darlington from 2006 to 2011 highlighted the effectiveness of consumption rooms, while projects in countries including Australia, Canada and Spain revealed a "world of opportunities" for alternative approaches to tackling drugs.
However, the PCC said that while the Prime Minister had talked of drugs policy reform in opposition, he was now refusing to engage in a proper discussion about the problem.
Durham chief constable Mike Barton has already come out in support of decriminalising Class A drugs.
And later this year the region will host a major seminar to debate the future of drug policy.
Mr Hogg said he wanted County Durham and Darlington to be at the forefront of UK drug policy reform, adding: "The North-East can sometimes feel very remote from the political centre of London, but together we can make our voices heard and drive the change that is so sorely needed."
But the call for an alternative drugs policy was quickly dismissed by the Government, with the Home Office saying Ministers had no intention of bringing in decriminalisation.
A spokesman added: "The UK's approach on drugs remains clear - we must prevent drug use in our communities, help dependent individuals through treatment and wider recovery support, while ensuring law enforcement protects society by stopping the supply."
The Home Office said there were positive signs this approach was working.
"Across the majority of drugs and age groups there remains a long-term downward trend in drug use over the last decade," the spokesman added.
"Drug-related deaths in England and Wales have continued to fall and people going into treatment today are more likely to free themselves from dependence that every before.”
Speakers at the Future of Drug Policy symposium to be held at Ramside Hall, Carrville, near Durham City, on November 27 will include police, politicians, health experts and academics.