I had a little flurry of tweets from several people totally opposed to my position of zero policy on drugs, and felt the need to do some research, in order to let others come in on the debate about strategy and policy. I suspect we would ALL like to see killer drugs eradicated (apart from the dealers) so it will just be a question of how we can achieve that.
I came into politics because of my concern over increasing drug use and therefore I'm not writing this on a position of proving I am right about anything I have already written. If the research and ensuing policy proved me wrong, I would be just as delighted. All I want is for us to at least be winning the war on drugs, whatever that takes.
I remember vividly the horror of the Ipswich street worker murders and the fact that we were told it was impossible to get prostitution off our streets. Well we proved them wrong with our 5 year strategy and although this long established industry has obviously not gone away, we have at least helped many girls get their life back and helped the residents of London road to have their roads free of street workers and pimps.This was done using partnership working to help them abstain from drugs, get away from the men who were pressurising them and find suitable alternative environments in which to start a new life.
And so the negative statement 'we will never get rid of drugs' just doesn't wash with me. Yes we can win the battles, but it will be a slow, arduous multi-faceted, multi-partnered approach and lessons must be learnt and adopted from best practice around the world.
I intend to be open, honest and look for evidence that does not support my approach as well as those that do so that I give a balanced view. I invite comments from professionals in the know and people that have lived with a drug problem.
I have never taken illegal drugs but I know how hard it was to give up smoking a few years ago (apparently very comparable with heroin) so I do understand the torture involved in an addiction. I therefore come from the premise that help is needed as well as punishment for those who commit illegal acts.
I will start with a statistic that was confirmed to me at our working group meeting this week. That children whose parents take drugs are 8 times more likely to embark on this journey themselves. This alone suggests that we owe it to them to try and work on abstinence of drugs (not merely harm reduction, which was the strategy under Labour). Many of the last govts policies were based on the premise that 'oh well, we'll never stop it so let's just educate them and tell them about the harm in the hope that we can reduce it, while they do it'.
This is clearly wrong because at best, it sends out mixed messages and, at worst, appears to condone it. Yes, we should educate but our policies must now be with abstinence in mind or the next generation will bring us even more victims, addicts, destroyed families and huge costs.All those that now find it so difficult to get off the nastier drugs must surely wish they never started it so lets make sure that going forward this regret is not felt by even more of our young people.
Would I have started smoking had I been told the dangers way back in the 70's? Of course not. Nor would a website telling me that if I am going to smoke then at least follow the harm reduction rules! That would also have been a green light to my peers and I.
So my first point is We must stop sending out messages that taking drugs is acceptable.
Some are comparing taking drugs, like cannabis, with drinking. I am not accepting this argument here for various reasons;
a) 2 wrongs don't make a right
b) Alcohol is legal and making it illegal will never happen.
c) Wine is a natural substance that is good for you in small measures. One spliff is not good for you, even if you believe it's not bad for you (to be debated later date)
d) Alcohol dependancy is an illness but other than making drinking illegal also, it has no relevance to the war on drugs which is a stand alone issue and requires a different strategy.
The conclusion in 'The Phoney War On Drugs by Kathy Gyngell, an author and researcher suggests that we must;
Reduce the supply of Drugs
Reduce recruitment to drug abuse
Encourage people with drug abuse to give it up
The Netherlands and Sweden have both adopted the approach of enforcement of their drug laws, prevention of illicit drugs and provision of addiction care with successful results. Interestingly it is the UK that has gone into the realms of normalising drug use, not the Netherlands, according to research, and I think that would surprise many.
So I will firstly use some of the information contained within her research and book before moving onto those from the side of 'legalising drugs', somthing I am deeply opposed to but will nevertheless give opportunity to it's believers here.
part 2 coming soon...