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Sunday, 24 March, 2002, 02:13 GMT
Addicts need 'enterprise solution'
Drug addict
War on drugs has been a 'resounding failure'
Britain is spending millions of pounds every year on drugs prohibition and treatment without tackling the root causes of addiction, says a new report.

There are now 540 times as many registered drug addicts in the UK as there were in the 1960s, according to a pamphlet published by Labour-leaning think-tank the Foreign Policy Centre.

Rowena Young, author of the report, says the government should focus resources against drug dependency rather than recreational drug use.

Pointing to key projects in Asia, Ms Young suggests poverty is the biggest factor in addiction and new measures are needed to help users into work and training.


The key issue is not the availability of drugs, but rather the problematic drug use caused by social exclusion

Rowena Young

Ms Young says: "The war on drugs has been a resounding failure. Rarely in the history of wars have so many achieved so little at such a high cost.

"The key issue is not the availability of drugs, but rather the problematic drug use caused by social exclusion."

Price of abuse

Research for the Home Office recently suggested drug abuse was costing Britain a total of 18.8bn a year.

That included the 11,000 yearly bill average run up in healthcare, policing, court costs and crime by each drug addict.

Ms Young's report suggests the poorest areas of Britain account for 30 times as many drugs-related hospital emergencies as the richest ones.

Unemployed people are also seven times more likely to use hard drugs than those in work.

'Use recruitment firms'

Prohibition has failed to tackle the problem while treatment and education programmes have enjoyed only limited success, says the report.

Ms Young urges ministers to use private firms and voluntary groups to provide training and work experience for problem drug users.

Recruitment agencies such as Reed Employment have already shown an interest in the idea, she argues.

Studies have shown how that "taking care of business" gives motivation, meaning and structure to a drug user's day, explains the report.

That is the approach taken by some drugs help groups in Asian countries like Pakistan, India and Malaysia.

Ms Young believes Britain and other Western countries must learn from the success of projects such as the Nai Zindagi in Pakistan, which combines treatment with commerce.

Among her recommendations for British drugs policy are:

  • Establishing a Home Office-funded "business incubator" to promote social enterprises like those in Asia to train and employ long-term drug users, with a target of creating 25,000 jobs in 10 years

  • Renaming the current National Treatment Agency as the National Drugs Rehabilitation Agency and spending more of its money on encouraging education, work and enterprise

  • Reform the benefit system so drugs users taking training or work placements do not lose housing tenancies or child care support

  • Adopting a more "holistic" approach by scrapping targets for total cuts in drug use and focusing on reducing harm.

    Home Secretary David Blunkett is already considering making cannabis a Class C instead of a Class B drugs.

    Optimism

    The Commons home affairs select committee will also report soon with its verdict on whether drugs policy is working.

    Such moves make Ms Young optimistic about the prospects of the change in priorities she wants.

    "In issuing more positive guidance on heroin prescribing and recommending re-classifying cannabis, the home secretary has sent a powerful signal that the government is newly prepared to listen," she says.

    But on their own, the success of such measures and of their political backers remain "vulnerable to the vagaries of public prejudice and condemnation", she adds.


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    See also:

    09 Mar 02 | UK Politics
    12 Feb 02 | UK Politics
    26 Jun 00 | Health
    09 Jun 00 | Health
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