"THE war on drugs has failed. The criminalisation of people addicted to drugs has been a destructive force in every conceivable arena; from ethics to politics, health to policing, social work to economics.
Addiction is an illness, and recognised as such in almost all instances, including alcohol and gambling. It is quite correctly public policy, not to mention common decency, to help and treat those who are ill. But for those addicted to controlled drugs, this is not currently the case.
The current legal framework dictates that they are arrested, vilified and persecuted. This approach is not only ethically dubious, but is rooted in decades of failure. We need a new approach; one that treats addicts as patients who need treatment, rather than criminals who need locking up.
When I was campaigning to become police and crime commissioner, I made a promise to ensure all policy is evidence-based.
The UK’s drug policy contradicts and denies overwhelming evidence more than any other policy area I have encountered. There is a taboo around this issue that has politicians running scared from the evidence.
My force area is at the forefront of much of this evidence. In Darlington, from 2006 to 2011 RIOTT (Randomised Injectable Opiates Treatment Trial) led the way alongside its sister pilots in London and Brighton, with early analysis revealing the effectiveness of drug consumption rooms that offer provision of diamorphine.
Some of our local people claimed to be “saved” by this treatment. One even remarked that their “life started to have meaning again.” The benefit to the patients should be enough of a reason to change our practice. If you disagree though, one patient felt confident that the trial led to “no use of street heroin.” Locally today, in Seaham, RIO (Recovery Injectable Opioid) continues to build on this evidence.
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.
Similar projects in various forms are part of national policies throughout the world including that of Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland. Drug consumption rooms are just one possibility in what could be a world of opportunities. These opportunities are stifled and silenced by the current approach. Both evidence and common sense urge a new approach, so why is it controversial?
Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg has expressed disappointment at his “coalition partners’ refusal to engage in a proper discussion about the drugs problem.”
He is right to be disappointed.
Prime Minister David Cameron was in fact a vocal supporter of drug policy reform right up until becoming Tory leader. In 2002 he spoke in Parliament criticising government “posturing with tough policies” and “holding back debate”.
In the USA there has been clear progress on decriminalisation and legalisation, but it has been led by individual states such as their constitution allows.
In this respect, if the rigidity of national government is taken as fact, then I am eager for County Durham and Darlington to be at the forefront of UK drug policy reform. 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.
The evidence demands it and so we must demand it. I call for the Government to decriminalise addiction and support recovery. Isolation and persecution of addicts is uncivilised, unsuccessful, and too often wholly unaddressed. We need a new approach."