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Tuesday, 7 May, 2002, 08:59 GMT 09:59 UK
Drug addicts: Is treatment better than prosecution?
Police chiefs are calling for persistent drug abusers to be sent for treatment rather than be prosecuted.

The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) also believes it would be better to adopt a more relaxed stance towards people caught with small amounts of cannabis.

Commander Andy Hayman, the Scotland Yard deputy assistant commissioner, says the police's aim "is to disrupt and reduce supply, while at the same time working to achieve demand reduction."

But former shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe criticised the move as "the policy of surrender" and advocated tougher application of the law.

Should addicts be treated rather than prosecuted? Do the current drug laws work?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

I do not agree with rehabilitation at the expense of the tax payer. This is fact a very complex issue. Children who are targeted by pushers do not have the legal right to make a decision, but older people have free will. If they wish to use drugs that is their intent, knowing that it is proscribed makes them criminals. What we need is better education in schools and at home and more resources at the borders.
Jackson, Welling, Kent

Treat them by all means but let them off as non-criminals - no way! The problem in this country is the softly-softly attitude with everything. We are soft on crime - look at what's happening in London and, for that, elsewhere in the country! We are soft on drinkers - so casualty units are full of drunk people on Friday and Saturday nights and people who have non-self-inflicted problems will have to wait long hours as a result. The problem with the enforcement of tough drug laws might be that the people who are supposed to enforce them (e.g. police officers) are increasingly into drugs too, and find offences like these difficult to take seriously.
Eva, UK

think the government is beginning to realise how much money it could make if it legalised it and added duty to it

Dopey Don, UK
I smoke cannabis on a regular basis, along with a far greater number of people that than the press seem to suggest. I wouldn't say I was addicted, if only because it's an extremely expensive habit. I think the government is beginning to realise how much money it could make if it legalised it and added duty to it! In fact, I have a full-proof way to reduce the number of users - why not legalise it and show us live footage of Tony Blair having a puff! Nothing would take away the cool 'underground' image of Ganja better than that!
Dopey Don, UK

The link that the government keeps making is between drugs and anti social crime. recreational users (such as the ones that Paddick has no interest in prosecuting in Lambeth) do not pose a risk in terms of antisocial crime, and drug addicts need rehabilitation and help and to have the drugs and their dealers taken off their doorstep. On top of this there is the ?8 billion or so that NCIS says was earned by criminals last year from drugs. Please find me a logical and thought out argument for keeping them illegal?
Tom, London UK

Treat the addicts, of course, but pursue and prosecute the drug barons too.
Graham, The Netherlands

It would appear that politicians are completely oblivious of JS Mill's Harm Principle and have no interest in promoting or applying libertarian ideals. Furthermore, they seem to be economically blind to the vast revenues they could generate through the legalisation and taxation of all controlled substances. The government's drugs policies fly in the face of common sense and their main aim seems to be the appeasement of reactionary Daily Mail readers.

I think people found with small amounts of drugs on them should just have to go to treatments not jail. It may be wrong to take drugs but shouldn't mean jail time unless you get caught with it more then once.
Tori E, USA

I don't get this whole idea of punishing someone for putting some kind of drug in their body - what business is it of anyone else's? It just goes to show how little freedom we have as individuals. I find it particularly disturbing that it is illegal to have a hemp plant growing in your garden - this is a natural plant, like a fern! How can it be illegal to grow it?
Rich, USA

The law as it stands is the consequence of historical "accident"

John, England
The law as it stands is the consequence of historical "accident". Alcohol is a mind altering drug, moderately addictive, and the policing of its abuse costs us hundreds of millions of pounds each year. Tobacco is highly addictive, and kills thousands each year in a variety of gruesome ways. Both are legal. Help is available to addicts of both. It seems strange that a whole host of other drugs, some no doubt evil and pernicious, some less so, are not.
John, England

There is a happy medium between calling the average user an 'addict' and sending them to jail and calling criminals who rob to pay for their habit a 'victim' and giving them an excuse. Legalize drugs, make them free.
Warren, UK

The first problem is that the state views addiction as a social problem. I believe it is a disease, which can be treated. The problem is most addicts blame the drugs and are not prepared to accept that it is themselves who have an illness. The whole problem of drug addiction is full of hypocrisy. Do you, for example, see your pub landlord as a drug dealer? Why is it ok to be counselled by therapist who drinks alcohol, but would be wrong to be counselled by a therapist who used heroin?
Steve, England

A very close friend of mine was a heroin user for 9 years. He was a high-level professional in a major bank in the UK. He was prosecuted more than once in the 9 year period for possession, but it never had any effect on him. Around Xmas 2000, he was caught in his company car in possession. This filtered back to the company and he lost his job. Did he care? Not a jot. His father only found out when the police visited the house. His father paid for him to go to a private rehab clinic at great expense, but since April 2000 when he came out of rehab he has been completely clean and is rebuilding his life well. This is a prime example of why prosecution does not work.
Mike Pearson, UK

I firmly believe that a fixed sentence of solitary confinement is the best solution for addicts

Charlie English, England
There is a fat line (pun not intended) between drug users and drug addicts. I firmly believe that a fixed sentence of solitary confinement is the best solution for addicts. This will allow them to "sweat-out" the drug through a very tough cold turkey process.
Charlie English, England

Prosecute them and lock them up but in secure centres where they will have access to treatment programmes.
Louise Laffette, UK

Just how much will decent law abiding citizens have to put up with ? Laws are in place to protect the whole of society, and even though our current over stressed and under funded police force can ill cope with the drugs problem, that is no reason to put this type of 'de-criminalisation' in by the back door. Give the police more power and money, and stop the drain on an already overburdended NHS!
AK, London, UK

No-one should have to justify what they put in their own bodies. Society does, though, have to justify why certain substances are illegal and why their use and possession should attract a prison sentence. Society should also be called to justify why, by making these substances illegal and criminal, society has created a worse drugs addiction and crime problem than would otherwise be the case.
Randy, UK

The government has to relax the laws - being an addict is an illness not a crime. By allowing the drugs to be available free on the NHS the addict doesn't have to steal all day long to get a hit which is probably contaminated anyway.
Alex, England

The rest of us have to live alongside drug users and are affected by their actions

Pburns, UK
Anyone who thinks that addicts are only hurting themselves has a screw loose. What about the impact on families? Its not just a question of the individual's rights. The rest of us have to live alongside drug users and are affected by their actions. For example, drug-driving; why should those who chose not to take drugs be exposed to this risk?
Pburns, UK

What we have are drugs policies made by people who have absolutely no idea what effects drugs have aside from what they read. The old way isn't working and it's making criminals rich. By lumping cannabis up with hard drugs it only pushes people to dealers. If it really is a gateway drug then why aren't there more hard drug users in Holland where it is more or less legal? Alcohol prohibition was the same. It made gangsters rich and never even dented the amounts on the street. It's not drugs that kill people, it's drug laws that kill people!

Drugs such as cannabis, ecstasy and cocaine are incredibly easy to gain access to on the streets, and regardless of the views of individuals who regard soft drug takers as 'evil' or weak, demand is, if anything, increasing. Fighting a 'war' against hard drugs such as heroin is one thing, but the millions of pounds spent every year in the fight against softer drugs is both pointless and ineffective.
JB, England

Most of the harm which drugs do is due to their prohibition. Overdoses happen because the drugs are impure, disease and injury are caused by unsanitary needles. Burglary (or a large inheritance) is the only way to pay for the black-market drugs, and at most stages of the drug trade, from import-export, wholesale to retail, drug dealers defend their illegal patch with violence.
Michael, UK

Legalise all drugs and prostitution. That will halve the police workload and generate income for the country at the same time as making regulation easy and undermining drug gangs and gang warfare. Legalising prostitution will mean the ability to control and test prostitutes for STDs, tax their income, eliminate pimps and the risk of underage girls and poverty stricken yet pretty foreigners being forced into sexual slavery.
Sam, UK

The drug dealers are the ones profiting off of the drugs and they are the ones who should have to sit for their term

Dan, USA
The drug dealers are the ones profiting off of the drugs and they are the ones who should have to sit for their term, the users on the other hand need help to break the cycle. Putting someone in a room for a couple years will not give them that help. While drugs such as heroin are physically addicting cannabis is not and I believe there is a safe way of completely decriminalizing it.
Dan, USA

I can't help being struck by the fantastic hypocrisy in a lot of the opinions expressed here. Would the people who eagerly demand punishment and compulsory treatment for those who are addicted to certain drugs extend their pompous moral preaching to those addicted to the drugs tobacco and alcohol?
John Yates, Finland

Drugs are being used recreationally in Britain at such high levels that current drug laws that treat use as a criminal activity are a joke. And why are dealers bigger scum than people, for example, who serve alcohol to alcoholics or cigarettes to pregnant mothers?
James Jones, England

Treatment is all very well and morally I think we all want to help these people to get rid of their addiction. But who ends up paying for these people's mistakes? Why should responsible citizens have to pay the price for someone who wants to appear "cool" and "experiment"?
Ruchi, USA

Anne Widdecombe's closest brush with marijuana is obviously on the pages of a magazine

Bode Akintan, Canada
Anne Widdecombe's closest brush with marijuana is obviously on the pages of a magazine. Anyone who has a modicum of knowledge -first hand- about drugs or herbs as some are called knows that you cannot, ever, totally eradicate these from our streets. You cannot stop demand, you may reduce it, you may alter people's perception of it but it's not going anywhere, and I think the police have a good handle on this, they are out there on the streets fighting the battles, and they know the score.
Bode Akintan, Canada

There is no solution to the "drug problem". The aetiology is multifactoral: unemployment, social inequality and discrimination, upper echelon boredom, etc., etc. - i.e. normal society through the ages. The only thing that the powers that be can do effectively is to destroy the supply at the source. No drugs...another problem, but at least it solved the drug problem.
T. Rinidad, Trinidad

Some of the points here suggest that we get tough with the suppliers, but as far as the users are concerned, let them kill themselves. Well we've tried this approach for the last thirty years or so, and it doesn't seem to be working very well. Let's face it, heroin is the problem drug, and virtually all the problems associated with it (deaths, crime, homelessness, begging etc.) are because of the black market, not the drug itself.
Jon E, UK

The best way to combat addiction is the one that minimises crimes against the rest of the community. We can't afford to be emotionally attached to prosecution or to treatment; the issue is too important for that. The BBC could help us here: Some months ago, Portugal just legalised all drugs. No tax, no licensing or government guarantees of purity, no treatment, just legalisation.
Steve Merrick, England

Here in Switzerland the authorities are considering making heroin and cocaine available to registered addicts. Drug addiction is recognised here as a medical condition and providing the users with drugs of better quality is seen as a very sensible approach. It should prevent deaths from impure drugs and help the users maintain a reasonable state of health while they are slowly weaned off them.
John McLean, Switzerland

Surely everyone knows that addiction in any form is an illness. No matter if people have fallen ill with an addiction through their own stupidity, the fact is they are ill. How therefore can anyone justify imprisoning people for feeding an addiction? It is of course an outdated nonsense.
Paul H, UK

I smoke cannabis, and as we know its not a physically addictive drug as most legal ones, I can go on holiday and not crave

Jonathan G, UK
I smoke cannabis, and as we know its not a physically addictive drug as most legal ones, I can go on holiday and not crave¿ I smoke for 2 reasons when I get back a) because its there and b)society sucks right now - if only we could all go on holiday for a few years, I'm a slave like everyone, its a means to escape a little. There is no help for cannabis addiction I looked and asked, I figure ill just have to grow out of it.
Jonathan G, UK

This sounds like an excellent idea, but the unfortunate reality is that treatment is most unlikely to work until a person genuinely wishes to stop taking drugs. Prohibition has been a complete failure - the so-called war on drugs can never be won, and harsher measures will only ensure even greater profits for the drug barons.
Stuart C, Kent, UK

Western society has decided to make mind expanding drugs off-limits, while doing nothing about the other ones, which are profitable - sugar, alcohol, coffee. What's the yearly cost of mass alcoholism?
Steve s, USA

If drug users are causing social disruption, crime etc. then punish them, but don't punish people who choose to take drugs that have no effect on anyone but themselves.
Iain, England

The drugs war is being fought as a moral crusade by leaders proud of the fact they have never taken an illegal drug, and who don't understand them. On what justification has the world legislated against a state of mind?
Daniel Miller, USA (from Britain)

The more prevalent drugs are in society the more acceptable they become

N Jones, USA
The more prevalent drugs are in society the more acceptable they become. At what point will it be OK for a 12 year old to 'try' heroin? It is already OK to smoke marijuana. Three strikes and you're out has worked in the States. Why don't we copy their success before Britain becomes one large sleazy, dirty and crime-infested Amsterdam.
N Jones, USA

I do not think that there is a case for not treating them. Whether they should be punished for their crimes is another question and is probably case specific. Rehabilitation should be the priority in most cases.
Gordon, UK

Drug addicts, (users is a politically correct term) should absolutely be prosecuted, "Treatment" or denial of the drugs to them is automatic while they are in jail!
John, USA

Treat the idiots who get hooked on drugs, absolutely. But punish them also. If someone steals from me, they need to be punished. If that is a withdrawal of freedom at a treatment centre rather than a prison, then all the better. But they do not deserve to escape punishment.
Tom, UK

How many of the contributors to this debate will be down the pub tonight for a "drink" or two?? We all have accepted the legalisation, distribution, taxing of and social acceptance of alcohol so why should puff, smack or charlie be so different? What is the definition of a "Drug Addict" exactly, a regular user of a substance that changes his/her perceptions¿ Sounds like alcohol to me. How many people are treated for Alcohol related illnesses each year? How much violent crime is caused by booze?
Simon, UK

I am a company director and employ several people. I smoke cannabis on a fairly regular basis and have done so for the past 10 years, which would technically class me as an addict. I am happily married with children and my business is very successful with several large blue chip clients on the books. I think you'll find the majority of cannabis users, myself included, would not want 'treatment' and as such any enforced 'treatment' would be a complete waste of time and money. I'll try to put it into perspective for non-cannabis users.
Neil, England

The health services will need to be funded by a higher tax hike if everybody gets to have a go at drugs

Richard, Bath, UK
The health services will need to be funded by a higher tax hike if everybody gets to have a go at drugs. Its not cannabis per se, it's the search for the next level up the scale when that gets boring. The Police "sloping shoulders" policy shouldn't hit the health services instead.
Richard, Bath, UK

Having been a Police Officer (On the streets and Prosecuting in Court) for 19 years I honestly believe that the system we have in Queensland is the best answer as it gives a person caught for minor drug matters the option of going to court or being diverted. If diverted they get sent to another agency for counselling and information sessions. If the sessions are completed successfully no further action is taken. If not then they go to court. Once a person has been diverted and re-offends they go straight to court. They cannot be diverted more than once. We need the threat of penalties etc to prevent our young people from getting into drugs in the first place as this is the biggest factor preventing teenagers from experimenting.
Ron M, Australia

Sentenced to treatment? First of all, addicts don't want treatment, they want drugs, because they're addicts. Having had some experience in the field of drug abuse (ahem), I agree that prosecution doesn't usually deter addicts from using. Instant fines and confiscation for possession might be an option, whilst supply remains a serious court matter.
Quentin Holt, New Zealand

When will people realise that those who take drugs are not stupid, they do it because they enjoy it. The vast majority have no adverse side affects, just like the vast majority of those who drink alcohol don't end up as alcoholics. Stop criminalising people and make drugs legal.
Ryan Sykes, UK

Fine, if they (the addicts) commit crime to support their habit don't count it as a reason to go easy on them but as one to throw the book at them. That way you get both the non-crime committing addicts don't get locked up (as long as they don't commit crime) and the scumbag muggers etc get locked up for the crimes they commit to support their habit.
Rab Small, Scotland

One of the big problems with the current system is that the overwhelming majority of well-off drug addicts (including smokers and alcoholics) have access to therapy and rehabilitation, whereas poorer people tend to get incarcerated. When someone rich and famous, such as Naomi Campbell or Robbie Williams, checks into rehab, we applaud them for doing something positive about their addiction; poor addicts tend not to have access to such resources, and cannot pay for their drugs from their own pockets - we're not criminalising drug-addicts, we're criminalising being poor.
Kaz, UK

The fact is that the world over jails act as training grounds for criminals

Andrew Entin, Chicago, USA
The fact is that the world over jails act as training grounds for criminals. US prisons are drug infested. Convicts have easier access to narcotics within cell walls than out in the streets. Please Britain, take the failure of the US's get tough policy as a warning. Our prison population has swollen to one million people, the majority of which will return.
Andrew Entin, Chicago, USA

I agree with the majority of comments saying that decriminalisation, taxation and proper treatment programmes for those who want to beat addictions are the only sensible ways to combat Britain's current drug problem. To those who dismiss addicts as 'useless scum' I would like to point out that with education, money and a reliable, 'clean' source it is possible to have a productive and normal life even with a drug addiction. Addicts lucky enough to be in this situation harm no one but themselves.
Meredith, UK

Nobody forces people to take these substances, generally it is of their own free will. As far as heroin addiction is concerned, I fail to see why taxpayer's money should be squandered on them. At least three member of my family have died from cancer, morphine (which heroin becomes upon entering the bloodstream) was used so as to inure them to the pain as they died. They didn't ask to end up like that so why should I feel sympathy for someone who puts themselves into that state voluntarily?
Ian, UK

You all seem to forget that thousands more die every year from legal drugs like tobacco and alcohol. Yet we are happy to fund rehab clinics for them. Don't be so hypocritical
Bob, UK

Getting "tough" on drugs has failed - look at the crime rates and the number of addicts now compared to more "relaxed" times

Paul, UK
Getting "tough" on drugs has failed - look at the crime rates and the number of addicts now compared to more "relaxed" times. The priority for politicians and police should be to minimise the harm done by drug abuse. Therefore offenders should not only be treated but the whole culture of criminalisation should be re-examined in a fresh light with an open mind.
Paul, UK

The tough line has already been tried. Did it work? Time to try something else methinks.
Sarah, UK

It's bad enough breathing in other people's tobacco. It's going to be hellish breathing in cannabis, if it's legalised.
Lizzie, England

It's a good way to create falling crime figures if nothing else... Maybe they should target the problem instead of the crime figures. It seems 90% of drug takers can still hold down their jobs. So those addicts can be managed. Target the 90%. It's only when demand is taken away will the Police have the resources to police the 10% who mug and steal their way through life...
Dr Hoaxe, UK

It is completely idiotic to think that legalising drugs will somehow get rid of (or even reduce) the drug problem. Alcohol and tobacco are legal and yet we still have a high level of alcohol related crime and drinking and smoking related diseases are a huge drain on the embattled NHS. I also don't understand why it is that, given the current strains on our health system, we should waste time, money and resources on drug addict losers who have brought this problem on themselves.

I think it sounds like a great idea in principle. However, in practice you can only help those who want to be helped.
Lisa, UK

Alcohol and tobacco do so much damage because they're legal

Laura, UK
Those people who advocate legalising drugs always say that alcohol and tobacco do far worse damage than the illegal substances. Have they ever stopped to think that alcohol and tobacco do so much damage because they're legal? Because these are seen as socially acceptable, legally sanctioned, readily available drugs, more people use them and are tempted to abuse them as a result.
Laura, UK

The "they have to get their money from somewhere" argument may work when applied to some (we're talking crack/heroin users mainly) but to the vast majority of casual drug users don't go out a steal to pay for drugs. Myself and my friends indulge perhaps once a month and we work in 'ordinary' jobs, pay our taxes and go out and vote. I'm pretty certain that this goes for the majority of people you'll see out clubbing at the weekend.
Jimbo, London

I have to laugh at all the self righteous people harping on about how we should lock drug addicts up and prosecute them all. How many of the hypocritical hard liners on this page smoke cigarettes? And before anyone starts going on about how you can't compare cigarettes and cannabis or cocaine etc remember that every cigarette you smoke in company is killing another person or persons.
Stephen, N. Ireland

It has been proven time and time again that Cannabis is no way as harmful as alcohol. Could someone tell me please how many Cannabis related deaths there have been this year? I give you an answer; none... How many alcohol related deaths this year? Probably a few thousand. Imagine if the people at the Millwall game yesterday had been smoking weed instead of drinking cheap lager, would they have started the fight with the police? I don't think so!
Mark, UK

The general attitude seems to be "leave the addict alone, prosecute the dealers". But if you take all the dealers off the streets, where are the poor little addicts going to get their fix? It's either legal or it isn't, and it's fairly stupid to say it's legal to buy a commodity but illegal to sell it.
Steve Wehrle, UK

500 heroin addicts late 1950's. 300-500,000 today

Colin Preece, England
500 heroin addicts late 1950's. 300-500,000 today. Cannabis: 1960's - the drug of pop stars artists and the like. Today an estimated 10 million have tried it. I thought the 1971 act was passed in order to cut drug use. It seems to have had the opposite effect.
Colin Preece, England

Surely we still need conviction as well as rehabilitation. If there is not a direct punishment from breaking the law, people are not going to be discouraged from breaking it. Another question, all this talk of people going to prison and developing their addiction in prison. What are drugs doing in prison in the first place?
Nath, UK

Treating addicts like criminals is madness. What have they done wrong? We don't put alcoholics or smokers in prison. It's not illegal to poison oneself, how can it be? The BBC also seems to belong to the ignorami, with all the weed leaf talk. Since when has weed been addictive? Ignorance is the true crime.
Laurence Keeble, England

Drug addiction is practically incurable. No "treatment" has permanent effect. The result of even the best treatment is a person that is of no or very limited use to society. Return on investment in rehabilitation is laughable: resources sunk into just keeping one addict off drugs for a year could probably finance some poor person's university education. As almost all addicts relapse, treatment is a complete waste of money that should be used to better the life of those who haven't opted for "recreation" and "experimentation" of this sort or treating patients with diseases they didn't get voluntarily.
Steven Faraday, England

Creating more addicts is asking for the crime rate to spiral

Any relaxation of the drugs laws in any form must be opposed. The majority of crime in this country is drug-related and creating more addicts is asking for the crime rate to spiral upwards.

Ms Widdecome describes this as a policy of surrender - what better way to deal with a unwinnable fight? We minimise casualties and preserve resources. Discretion is the better part of valour and I look forward to the benefits that alternatives to fighting offer.
Chris, UK

If peddling is a crime, why should consuming not be?

Mandhoj, Canada
If peddling is a crime, why should consuming not be? After all, the goal of prevention of selling is the prevention of consuming.
Mandhoj, Canada

This is a reasonable first step. I have never understood the concept of a drugs prohibition. The idea that society should punish people, to protect them from doing harm to themselves. Is that insane or what? If the prohibition is to protect society then it has demonstrably failed. We have entire regions of our cities where dealing drugs is the easiest way to make money. So we all end up having our homes robbed to fund people buying drugs. Far too much of our time and effort is focused upon preventing people from taking drugs. Why bother?
Ian Greely, UK

Drug users are a danger to both themselves and the general public. Alcohol is a drug, though legal, yet drivers found over the limit are prosecuted, can be imprisoned and lose their licenses. Users of illegal drugs, are not only STUPID, they are also criminals. Drugs should be legalised, but misuse by drivers and any person who brings the rest of the public into risk, should be severely dealt with. Drunken driving is hard to stop; the message is now getting home with disqualifications. Supplying drugs which kill is close, if not as bad, as shooting randomly in public. Here again the system needs to review policy and punishment!
Peter W. Pearce, US

The only hope is imprisonment, and Narcotics Anonymous

Stephen Rose, US
Having worked in drug and alcohol rehab, anyone who suggests legalisation should meet the beautiful lives that drugs have destroyed. The users need treatment but as with any addiction, the success rate is low, unless the treatment is sustained over a long period. Who is going to pay for that? The only hope for the drug user is imprisonment, and the Narcotics Anonymous group they attend while in jail. We have a major problem in our society that will not go away, and to which there is no easy answer.
Stephen Rose, US

How does putting someone in a crowded cell with lots of heroin users and lots of smuggled-in heroin help get them off drugs? DUH! Miss Widdecombe clearly just likes to punish others gratuitously for electoral benefit and personal enjoyment. Before they were criminalised, opiate drugs were a minor health problem, soon after criminalisation they became a global crisis. It's time to undo the damage - provide opiates to addicts on the National Health - this will save money and put the dealers out of business forever.
Tim, UK

If the authorities aren't going to prosecute, why are drugs illegal?
Martin Monaghan, England

I'm an addict. I was hooked on opiates, pain pills, heroin. I tried harder than anything in my life to stop. I would stay clean for a couple of months, but something in my mind would always take me back to it. A year and a half ago I got into a methadone program. My life totally changed. I am able to hold a job, I get along with my family. Basically it saved my life.
John Whiteman, US

To Baz in the UK: I think alcohol abuse and smoking constitute a far worse problem than all other drugs combined. Why not outlaw those as well? Of course since so many of us are addicted to those things, it's just not convenient. Take a look at the prison situation in the US if you want to see the results of a failed war on drugs.

Addicts are no different from any other criminals, they are a menace and should stay locked up

Baz, UK
Going soft on drugs is madness. I just do not understand why senior police officers think that the act of having small amounts of soft drugs should now be disregarded. It is also suggested that we should free the prisons of addicts and give them treatment instead of punishment. But what then? We would be creating a situation whereby drugs would be easier to obtain so they would take more. Also more children would be tempted to experiment with this menace, and once addicted how would they afford to satisfy their craving. They would join the rest of the addicts who are persistently mugging old people and stealing from homes. Addicts are no different from any other criminals, they are a menace and should stay locked up.
Baz, UK

Prosecute them and then treat them in jail. A lot of people have said that they are victims of experimentation, well after all the publicity in the press and schools on the effects of drugs, they deserve everything that comes to them. I was a teenager not that long ago and I never experimented, none of my friends experimented. So to the people out there that think it, get rid of this stupid notion that all teenagers try drugs at some point. The drug-pushers would vanish quick enough if there wasn't a market for it.
Grant, UK

Having spent some years in prison for dealing class A drugs I feel I have an insight into this subject that may be lacking in Ms Widdecombe and others.
Customs and excise and the police have had, and will only ever have, a marginal impact on the supply of drugs in the UK. I was arrested on a Friday morning, by Saturday all of my customers had a new source of supply. No problem. I served a four-year sentence in jails full of crack and heroin addicts (I only supplied LSD by the way) who spent time in jail with little or no attention paid to their addictions. Drugs of all sorts were freely available on the landings. I received only one drugs test in eight months despite volunteering for regular test.

If you are to stop having your houses broken into and your mobile phones stolen, then positive action needs to be taken to reduce drug dependence through treatment. It's time to listen to the police and the criminals, those who know the reality of life on the edge. Decriminalise the non-addictive, treat the addicted and focus on cutting the supply of crack and heroin.
Doug , UK

Individuals come out of jail with a drug problem

Crissy, USA
Drug users should not be thrown in jail; they need treatment for their addiction. Also, individuals who are incarcerated tend to come out of jail with a drug problem, or a worse addiction, which they had not had previously. If people want to do something about the drug problem, they need to focus on prevention programs and the actual reason people are buying and selling drugs.
Crissy, USA

The law makers have to take an honest view and go beyond superficial morality and personal dislikes and attempt to tackle this issue with a real understanding of the situation. Failing which we shall watch governments pass laws on issues which they do not have a real mandate on. Which will demonstrate a failure of the democratic ideals.
Mushtaq Hussain, India

This is a difficult question to answer properly because initially we have to consider the reasons why people get addicted to drugs in the first place. Treating addicts without solving the reasons behind the social problem is like trying to shut the gate after the bull has bolted. Of course there should be treatment available for addicts and the money to pay for this system should come from the revenue confiscated from dealers. There should also be extremely harsh punishments for dealers that are caught. At the moment the punishments are not harsh enough. As a very large proportion of crime throughout the UK is now drug related, more facilities and financing should be assigned to our police forces to help them combat the situation.
PhilT, Oman

First of all, Larry (USA) says that cannabis should be legalised because it grows naturally. So does opium, so should that be legalised as well? I rest my case. My main point is that I think that the answer is to impose long, solitary sentences for dealers (I give them no sympathy) and to treat drug addicts effectively- which I think can only be done by totally removing them from the environments where there are suppliers of drugs- and gradually giving them more independence as they recover.
Dan, UK

You can tell an alcoholic that he's dying and needs to stop, but in most cases it won't change a thing. This is the same with drugs. Cannabis (because it grows naturally) should be legalised. It's far less damaging than alcohol, and it's absolutely stupid to continue to ban this "weed". You're simply asking for control of something uncontrollable. Tax it and help others overcome addictions to the "laboratory" drugs which are by far more harmful to both the user and society.
Larry, USA

Addicts do need treatment but dumping the problem on the NHS is not the answer

Of course the NHS has plenty of spare resources to deal with thousands of addicts who have no-one but themselves to blame for their condition! Are we going to see headlines about hospitals diverting cash from hip replacements and cancer care to try and help people who have spent years stealing, mugging and generally being loathsome? I know it's harsh and addicts do need treatment but dumping the problem on the NHS is not the answer. How about drug rehabilitation prisons for known addicts, where detention, education and treatment go hand in hand. There should be drug dog searches every day, no visits and no post, but video links and phone calls should be allowed - so no drugs can get into the prison. It sounds extreme but it's going to take something extreme to make a difference.

I have a cousin who was and still is a junkie. Not only did he put himself in intensive care for four weeks with multiple organ failure but he also lost a leg from injecting. He was given treatment, but went straight back to injecting as soon as he could. The money spent on treating him, and others like him could be better spent elsewhere in the NHS.

If people are stupid enough to take drugs then why should we have to pay to help them? OK, let's follow this through... if people are stupid enough to smoke why should we pay to help them either? What about people who are stupid enough to hurt themselves DIY'ing? Maybe we should only send the fire brigade to arson attacks rather than to the houses of idiots who leave cigarettes lying aroung? They should have bought a smoke alarm anyway, shouldn't they? Most of the people reading this will at some stage in their lives be bailed out by the NHS for not living healthily. The point is to help each other, not to whinge about the cost.
Tom, UK

I am studying in Germany right now and their drug laws don't work here either. People who want to use recreational drugs should have just as much right as people who smoke cigarettes or drink a couple pints. That doesn't mean that they should be allowed to drive while on pot or E, just like we don't let people who have been drinking drive a car. Drugs are drugs and if enjoyed responsibly they don't harm anyone but the person who uses them.
Dustin Brucher, Germany/USA

The emphasis should be on treatment, but prosecution without the possibility of jail time should not be ruled out. The possibility of the loss of property should be considered as a possible deterrent with the use of hard drugs.
Mike Feasey, USA

We should treat not prosecute the addicts. Instead we should be concentrating our efforts on catching and prosecuting the pushers and big time drug dealers.
John Palethorpe, England

Prohibition continues to be a total disaster for society at large

Malcolm McMahon, York, UK
Everyone who has looked at the problem knows that prohibition has been, and continues to be a total disaster for society at large (though it does wonders for some vested interests, on both sides of the law). I suspect our politicians won't discuss legalisation because they don't have the power to do it. America wouldn't allow it. If there's one thing a politician doesn't want to admit to it's impotence.
Malcolm McMahon, York, UK

Ms Widdecombe is doing her best to show why the Tories were trounced. A nice blinkered reaction as usual to a nasty problem made worse through stupid criminalisation. Legalise cannabis and tax it. Use the money raised to help the addicts of the much worse heroin and cocaine. This should reduce a lot of petty crime and release the police to enforce the sensible laws of the land.
Gwyn Jones, EU

It's a strange analogy isn't it? The police don't want to prosecute people for drugs and prefer rehabilitation and treatment of offenders but at the same time don't want drugs decriminalised which is a strange anomaly. You can't have it both ways - you either decriminalise or keep it illegal. This is going to send mixed signals to young people!
Anthony, Lancashire, UK

I do not think people should be prosecuted for being addicted to drugs, after all one would not be not prosecuted for being an alcoholic or a smoker. Treatment should be available instead of a jail sentence. However people should be held accountable for other crimes they commit, like theft and mugging to "feed their habit". Whilst being a drug addict should not automatically make someone a criminal, it should not excuse any other criminal acts that they may be involved in.
Robert, Scotland

Treatment is the best course of action. It works in Holland where there is less crime and less drug users per head of population. Mo Mowlam hit the nail on the head when she advocated that all drugs should be made legal. The laws now don't work and we will be going around in circles until there is a change.
Jamie, UK

The current laws don't work, and the knock-on effect in terms of crime in particular is terrible. However I'm concerned at the message it would send to youngsters if drug taking was seen as no worse than being an illness, implying that drug takers are not responsible for their decision. I would be loathe to let hard drug users get off scot-free. Maybe they could be offered compulsory rehabilitation in a secure environment and be rewarded with their freedom and a wiped criminal record should they become 'clean' as a result.
Jon Cooper, UK

Society should only show so much compassion and patience

Ian, Preston
The Police Authority seems finally to be approaching the drugs issue with realistic and honest eyes. Surely those who use drugs for recreational purposes and have no desire or need to develop a dependency/addiction should be left alone. Law enforcement resources should instead be used to deal with the problem of those with hard drug addictions. They are the ones who bring devastating social and business costs through dysfunctional and unlawful behaviour. If they are strong enough, yes, they should receive treatment instead of punishment. But, how long do we keep treating these people before they must be punished for a lack of discipline and self control? Society should only show so much compassion and patience before we discover those who are genuine and those whom have no desire to rid themselves of hard drugs.
Ian., Preston, UK

The current drug laws are pretty much like US prohibition - both immoral and waste of time. People should be allowed to make up their own minds and use them or not. They should be given advice (as for drinking and smoking) - but it should be a personal choice. Control the supply, tax it, severely punish anyone who supplies kids and let nature and the free market take its course. This would eliminate whole classes of crime and criminals and allow the police to concentrate on real crime.
Dave Murphy, USA (from Britain)

My partner's brother has been a heroin addict for the last six years (he's now 23). I can't begin to describe the how terrible things for the family trying to support and stand by him. It seems they have nowhere to turn for real help. The addiction has also caused paranoid schizophrenia. He is potentially a risk to himself, the family and the public. The government, police and medical profession have to treat addiction as an illness and provide the means to treat and help.
Simon, Wales

If it's addiction then it is an illness as it is the body wanting it. There are two types of addiction and that is the mental addiction and the physical addiction. You have to tackle problems on both levels. Lily comment about giving them two attempts is short-sighted and honestly winds me up. Help the people that are addicted, catch the dealers. But in reality we know that drugs is here and the problem is here to stay.
Simon, UK

Lily UK must be about 14 years old at the max. According to her, any off-licence owner should be imprisoned, because he sells alcohol and thus knowingly kills people, or at least contributes to an alcoholic death (of which there are far more than Heroin users). And to the Times: I can't believe you actually quote her - your paper has really gone from bad to worse. Just look at the readers you have.

If they don't stay clean, then try prison

Lily, UK
Give the addicts a maximum of two chances to get clean. Monitor them with a monthly blood test for a few years. If they don't stay clean, then try prison, but again with a drug treatment programme. Turn drug dealing into an offence of the same magnitude as murder (after all, dealers are knowingly killing people) and start getting this scum off the street.
Lily, UK

I find Ms Widdecombe's opinions both badly informed and frankly illogical. People who are addicted to hard drugs are obviously not concerned about how illegal their actions are. Stiffer sentences would not stop dealers - they would simply push up the price of drugs on the streets leading to more drug related crime and further stretching our already overburdened prison system. The only way to tackle the drug problem is to reduce the demand through education of our children and treatment of existing addicts. It is a matter of simple economics - as long as there is a demand (and in this case a demand so strong that people are willing to risk incarceration and pay vast sums of money), there will be a supply. The only way to put these dealers out of business is to take away their market. Demonising addicts and forcing them further underground is certainly not going to do this.
Tony, UK

Prosecute them then treat them. They are breaking the law, and they are a danger to other people.
S Francis, England

Legalise all drugs but introduce laws which prohibit people who are high on drugs from driving, operating machinery or being in a position to harm others due to their decreased competence - no need to tax drugs or prohibit their distribution. Result; the drug taking population will no longer be a danger to majority and will, in all probability, present a reduced liability to the state's health care and social security system. The levels of crime will decrease - probably halve - the prison population will fall, the courts will be freed up, the hospitals will be emptier, the stress in the unemployed/unemployable population will fall as they drift off to drug-induced heaven and we will one again become a contented nation. With all these benefits whatever can be the reasons why we continue with this un-winnable fight against drug use? I rest my case.
James Rae, UK

Addiction is an illness and should be treated as such

Sam Wiley, London
Treatment is what we provide here in Washington D.C. I know of an agency that requires all of the drug offenders to have treatment and counselling within the Courthouse vicinity. This treatment option works... although prosecution is still mandatory to help deter the behaviour.
Khassan, USA

I am a regular drug user (cocaine, cannabis and ecstasy). When people do drugs the only people they are harming are themselves. This is their choice. I think help should be made available. However, some users do not want help and are quite happy to carry on taking drugs - no one is affected apart from themselves so why can't society just let them get on with it and if they ask for help then we can give it to them?
John Peters, UK

To John Peters UK, the reason society are so concerned is because a drug addict has to get the money for their addiction from somewhere, and it usually tends to be from us through mugging, stealing or whatever. However as everyone has said they need treatment, it is just another illness and sending them to prison probably only makes the addiction worse when they get out.
Laura D/J, UK

Drug addicts: What is the best approach?



2096 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

See also:

03 Mar 02 | Scotland
Drug policy to be overhauled
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