Hard drugs such as heroin should be made legally available and sold to users “over the counter” at pharmacies, says a Cumbrian health chief.
Professor John Ashton, the county’s outspoken director of public health, voiced the idea as he told professionals working in the field: “The war on drugs has failed. We need to think differently.”
Addressing dozens of delegates attending the ‘Tackling Drugs, Changing Lives’ conference at Carlisle racecourse yesterday, he likened the current UK drugs situation to that in the United States during Prohibition when alcohol was banned. Despite their illegal status, class A drugs are freely available everywhere, he said.
Professor Ashton called for a fundamental change in how society tackles illicit drugs, suggesting that it should be an offence to promote their use rather than use them.
He said: “What we have done by having illegal drugs is what America did by creating illegal alcohol in the 1930s, when there was Al Capone, and mayhem, and a huge industry around it.
“Alcohol and tobacco are marketed in a very flamboyant way with pop stars and sportsmen in the tabloids and on television.
“That’s what I would restrict: promoting the use of these drugs, whether alcohol, tobacco or other drugs, should be a serious offence.”
Professor Ashton backed “controlled availability” for Class A and other illegal drugs for personal use by adults.
He said: “If you were buying them from a pharmacy they’d know who you are. It would involve adults signing for drugs so there would be no possibility of creating another black market. I’m sure it will come.
“We’re so focused on criminal issues that we can’t address prevention. We put vast resources into prisons and keeping people in prisons, where people start taking drugs.
“We have now got a vast illegal industry with some very rich drug barons and neighbourhoods ripped apart by drug-related violence. Controlled availability would take away the trade’s oxygen, its market.”
Professionals in the field of drug and alcohol abuse – the latter producing a far more devastating effect on society – should refocus on reducing demand.
More effort should be poured into helping children discover their own talents, and passions and a life path. The professor cited the work of John McKnight, who supports agencies mobilising communities to use their talents to help themselves.
Another speaker was Superintendent Paul Carter, of Cumbria Police. He disagreed with Professor Ashton, saying: “Class A drugs destroy the fabric of people’s lives and family lives. We have to do everything we can to get people away from drugs like heroin and cocaine.”
The conference included organisations including Addiction Dependency Solutions, Cumbria Police, Cumbria Alcohol and Drug Advisory Service, and Cumbria Drug and Alcohol Action Team, which organised the event. The conference marked the start of National Tackling Drugs Week.
Last updated 18:23, Tuesday, 09 June 2009
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