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16/04/2007 01:00:00

UK: Drug policies leave Britain bottom of table

Decades of Government attempts to control illegal drugs have had
"minimal" impact on levels of use and led to a position where Britain
has the worst addiction levels in Europe, a report will say this week.

In the latest piece of research to underline the failures of drug policy
by Labour and Conservative administrations, the report is understood to
point out that up to one in three people arrested on suspicion of crimes
is using hard drugs such as heroin and cocaine.

The new UK Drug Policy Commission (UKDPC) will say that Britain has the
highest level of problem drug use and the second highest level of
drug-related deaths in Europe.

This is despite sustained attempts to prevent young people trying drugs.
It will say: "Despite successive Governments' attempts to control the
demand for and supply of illegal drugs, drug policy appears to have had
minimal impact on the overall level of use in the UK."

The number of heroin addicts has surged from about 5,000 in 1975 to more
than 280,000 today. Estimates suggest that drugs cost society up to £13
billion a year in crime, health and other bills. Some have questioned
the need for another major study of drugs policy that largely draws on
Home Office and health statistics.

A recent study by the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts,
Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) found that Britain had "crude and
ineffective'' drugs laws that should be replaced, with the Home Office
stripped of its control over policy.

The RSA said the law was driven by "moral panic'' and suggested that the
main aim of policy should be to reduce the harm that drugs cause, not to
send people to jail.

The UKDPC report will add to pressure on the Government - which came to
power in 1997 with a promise to be tough on drugs - to consider radical
changes to policy.

It draws on a Home Office survey of 7,500 arrests, which showed that 18
per cent of those detained admitted taking heroin, while 15 per cent had
taken crack cocaine. Some of the 46 per cent who had taken cannabis were
also users of hard drugs.

The head of the UKDPC, Dame Ruth Runciman, said: "We simply do not know
enough about which elements of drug policy work, why they work and where
they work well. The commission has been set up to address this.''

However, Martin Barnes, chief executive of the drug information charity
DrugScope, said: "The trend in drug use has been upwards since the
1970s, but more recently has stabilised and for some drugs has been falling.

"To suggest that more recent drugs policy has been a total failure is
unreasonable. Recent record spending on drug treatment, for example,
needs to be seen against decades of under-investment. There needs to be
a greater focus on long-term prevention."

Author: The Telegraph via UKCIA

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