DRUG abuse is a public health issue that should form part of a wider debate beyond policing, according to the region’s newest top cop.

Jo Farrell, the new Chief Constable of Durham Constabulary, has said we, as a society, are not going ‘arrest ourselves out of the drug issue’.

Her predecessor, Mike Barton, was an outspoken critic of current legislation and said all drugs should be decriminalised to prevent people profiting from their sale illegally.

He also said heroin addicts should be given the drug in a controlled environment, or ‘shooting gallery’, to prevent them committing crime while they are weaned off the drug.

It is a view shared by Durham’s Police, Crime and Victims’ Commissioner Ron Hogg, who this week accused Government ministers who admitted taking drugs of hypocrisy.

Ms Farrell, who started her new role this week, would not be drawn on whether drugs should legalised, but did say addiction was a health issue.

She said: “Our approach is diverting people away from the criminal justice system and helping them with things like drugs, alcohol, homelessness and not having a job and taking an approach that is what that gets them in a much a better place and supports them as opposed to criminalising them.

“It is a public health issue. It is bigger than policing. There is, of course, a role for us around where vulnerable people are preyed on to progress organised criminality around drugs.

“We have a role but it has to be part of a wider debate because people who are suffering from drug abuse are very vulnerable and are on the margins of society.

“Policing isn’t going to solve that. We are not going to arrest ourselves out of the drug issue.”

Mr Hogg spoke out after the admissions of the use of Class A drugs by contenders for the position of Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party.

He argued the it highlighted the need for a national debate on drug policy reform.

Ms Farrell said: “Ron has his view and I have my view and they do not necessarily need to be in harmony with each other.

“There is an integrity issue in terms of what we saw play out over the weekend, in terms of taking cocaine and then directing policy about other professionals who have taking cocaine and other drugs.”

Ms Farrell, who joined the police after completing a business degree in 1991, is first female Chief Constable in the force’s 180 year history.

Ms Farrell, who is married to a retired police officer and has two stepsons and a daughter, said: “The ideal is that we reflect the public and have 50 per cent women. We are currently at 32 per cent, but as I have been appointed, I hope, it would mean that I am one of the role models that allow people will look and say ‘I want to do that’.”