The UK's anti-drugs policy 'has failed'

By Rightnow289 · May 18, 2009 · ·
  1. Rightnow289
    Labour's 'phoney war on drugs is a costly flop'

    Government's war on drugs is an expensive flop


    Labour has waged a 'phoney war' on the drug problem by squandering billions on ineffective treatment while presiding over Europe's most liberal drug regime, a damning report claims today.
    The study highlights rising levels of drug use, fewer prosecutions and a treatment system which has 'trapped' thousands of people on the heroin substitute methadone.
    The report, from the Centre for Policy Studies, urges ministers to return to tough enforcement of drug laws, and copy nations such as Sweden and the Netherlands which are widely seen as liberal but in reality take a far firmer line than the UK.

    Drugs expert and author of the report Kathy Gyngell says Britain spends £1.5billion a year combating drugs, but enforcement operations are underfunded and costly treatment programmes do not work.
    More than £800million a year is spent on treatment projects, the report states, compared with £380million on trying to keep drugs out of the UK.

    And while ministers boast of 200,000 addicts in treatment, less than three per cent of them have become 'clean'. Around 147,000 are simply kept on prescribed substitutes, such as methadone, and only 6,700 have undergone residential detox treatment.
    Spending on methadone has trebled in the past five years to around £300million a year.
    The study is scathing of the Home Office's 'FRANK' online drugs advice service. It says the website 'effectively endorses' drug-taking and 'epitomises the Government's low aspirations' in keeping young people off drugs.
    Over the last decade consumption of Class A drugs has risen dramatically.

    A man smoking cannabis in Amsterdam. The UK has Europe's worst drug problem, according to the Centre for Policy Studies, which was co-founded by Margaret Thatcher

    The Government claims that overall cannabis use is falling but Britain still tops the European league for use among school pupils with 29 per cent admitting to having taken the drug --compared with an EU average of 19 per cent.
    In 1998, 3.8 per cent of UK adults admitted having tried cocaine. By 2007 that had risen to 7.7 per cent, more than double the EU average.
    The UK suffers 47.5 drug-related deaths per million adults a year compared to 22 in Sweden and 9.6 in the Netherlands.
    'The UK drug problem is the worst in Europe,' the report says. 'The UK leads in "recreational" drug use with the highest levels of cocaine, ecstasy and amphetamine consumption.'
    Miss Gyngell says the Government must focus its efforts on stopping drug use rather than reducing the harm drugs cause.
    It should focus treatment on detox and rehabilitation rather than substitute drugs, and draw up 'a tougher, better-funded enforcement programme to reduce the supply of drugs'.

    By Matthew Hickley

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  1. chillinwill
    The government's anti-drugs policy has failed and the UK has more drug-related problems than Holland, the Centre for Policy Studies has said in a new report 'The Phoney War on Drugs'.

    The report said the government has deliberately shifted from tackling illegal drug use to cutting the cost of drug use, looking more at managing the addition of problem drug users (PDUs) rather than helping them to stop. Cannabis was declassified and spending on methadone treatment increased threefold between 2003 and 2008. The result is that 147,000 people have become trapped in state-sponsored (mainly methadone) addiction. Addicts leaving government treatment programmes clean of drug use are at the same level as if there had been no treatment programme at all, the report said.

    It added that over the last 10 years, Class A consumption and 'problem drug use' have risen dramatically, drug use has spread to rural areas and the age of children's initiation into drugs has dropped. Now, 41 per cent of 15 year olds and 11 per cent of 11 year olds have taken drugs. Meanwhile, drug death rates continue to rise and are far higher than the European average – the UK has 47.5 deaths per million population (aged 15 to 64) compared to 22.0 in Sweden and 9.6 in the Netherlands. And there are over 10 PDUs per 1000 of the adult population, compared to 4.5 in Sweden and 3.2 in Holland.

    The report's author Kathy Gyngell said that the UK drugs market is reckoned to be worth £5bn a year but the government is only spending £380m a year to control the supply of drugs while over £800m is spent on treatment programmes and reducing drug-related crime. Just five boats now patrol the UK's 7,750 mile coastline.

    Also, the number of recorded offences for importing, supply and possession of illicit drugs has fallen over the last 10 years, drug seizures have fallen and drug prices have dropped to an all-time low. The quantity of heroin, cocaine and cannabis that has been seized coming into the UK has fallen by 68 per cent, 16 per cent and 34 per cent respectively.

    The difference in Sweden and Holland, the report said, is that all illegal drug use is targeted, treatment is aimed at breaking addiction, and drug laws are clearly understood and enforced. Also, most of the drugs budget in both countries is spent on prevention and enforcement. The Centre for Policy Studies called on the UK to follow suit.

    Monday, May 18, 2009
    Public Service
  2. Jatelka
  3. Sven99
    Transform have effectively torn this report to pieces:
    Prohibition doesn't work, so lets have more prohibition!

    Kathy Gyngell, author of a new Centre for Policy Studies report - 'The phoney war on drugs', is wrong to say we are losing the ‘war on drugs’; it is a rhetorical war that could never be won. And in (somewhat reluctant) defence of the UK Government, they have been distancing themselves from the terminology 'war on drugs' for some years, even the US is now moving away from the term. On that basis it is a somewhat strange rhetorical point to take issue with.

    In some respects her critique, at least, is correct - current policy has indeed been an expensive failure (see Transform's cost-benefit analysis). The problem with Kathy's analysis is that whilst much of the problems are identified correctly, she misunderstands the causes and so her proposed solutions inevitably miss the mark - just as the 2007 Centre for Social justice Breakdown Britain report did (which Kathy co-authored, and of which her pamphlet is essentially a slimmed down polemic retread)
    Drug misuse is largely a reflection of broader socio-economic and cultural trends and has little to do with drug policy, either public health or enforcement. High levels of misuse are most closely correlated with high levels of inequality and low levels of wellbeing and have nothing to do with how liberal a countries regime is.

    Kathy claims, ‘The UK has one of the most liberal drug policies in Europe. Both Sweden and the Netherlands (despite popular misconceptions) have a more rigorous approach.’

    This comparison is disingenuous. Kathy argues that Sweden’s low levels of use result from high enforcement spending, yet next door Norway has a far more liberal regime, and similar levels of use. Greece has one fiftieth of the enforcement spend and the lowest level of drug use in Europe. Oddly, entwined with the condemnation of of the UK's (now reversed) 'declassification' (sic) of cannabis she also cites the Netherlands as an example of the way forward despite it offering a legally regulated supply of heroin for addicts, supervised injecting rooms, and de-facto legal supply of cannabis (yet still having lower levels of cannabis use than neighbouring countries, including the UK). Internationally - as Transform have pointed out to Kathy (see comments here for example)- there is no correlation between intensity of enforcement and levels of use, as a major WHO study made clear in its headline conclusion last year.
    'Globally, drug use is not distributed evenly and is not simply related to drug policy, since countries with stringent user-level illegal drug policies did not have lower levels of use than countries with liberal ones.'
    For every cherry-picked example of success another confounding example could be found. It is particularly striking that the US - the spiritual home of the drug war which spends a monumental $40 billion on enforcement yet is arguably the country with the worst drug problem in the developed world - is not mentioned in her report.

    She also says, ‘The election of the Labour Government in 1997 marked a new direction for drug policy. It developed a “harm reduction” strategy which aimed to reduce the cost of problem drug use… This harm-reduction approach has failed. It has entrapped 147,000 people in state-sponsored addiction. Despite the £10 billion spent on the War on Drugs, the numbers emerging from government treatment programmes are at the same level as if there had been no treatment programme at all.’

    Ignoring the fact that the harm reduction approach was pioneered by the Tories as a response the HIV epidemic, of course there are massive problems with the NTA and treatment system - the crime reduction agenda muscling out best practice in public health, an over-reliance on certain treatment modalities and so on, but to then conclude that 'harm reduction must be abandoned' is a dangerous case of throwing the baby out with the bath water. The almost evangelical commitment to abstinence based rehab - apparently at the exclusion of all else, and that being 'drug free' is the only measure of treatment/recovery success also feels ideologically rather than pragmatically driven. Unfortunately most health-led drug initiatives, be they prevention, treatment or education - only have fairly marginal impacts, even when they are done well (rare in the current political climate) - whilst supply side enforcement has decades of history of being actively counterproductive - worsening the problems it is designed to reduce.

    In the long term if we want to reduce problematic drug use we will need to address its underlying social causes - poverty, inequality, and low levels of wellbeing. 'Prohibition doesn't work, so lets have more prohibition' is not a serious basis for moving forward, nor is replacing one form of politically skewed policy with another, (and reconsidering prohibition more widely and addressing inequality are not approaches that the Centre for Policy Studies is likely to get to excited about - regardless of evidence).

    A principle error made by by advocates of prohibition is a failure to distinguish the harms caused by drug use from those caused or exacerbated by our attempts to stamp out their use. These policy harms, lets call them prohibition harms, include the creation of a vast global market controlled by criminal profiteers, the distortion of public health priorities, the diversion of resources away public health and investment in social capital into futile and counterproductive enforcement, and the maximisation of the health harms associated with drug use. The causes of the problems we face are rather more complicated than too much methadone and harm reduction, and not enough rehab, prevention, and enforcement.
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