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Thursday, 2 May, 2002, 14:14 GMT 15:14 UK
Police back softer line on drug users
Heroin and cocaine
Treatment of heroin addicts may be more suitable
Police chiefs say they would have a better chance of winning the war on drugs if addicts were given treatment instead of punishment.

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.

ACPO unveiled its proposals in a report, carried out by its influential drugs committee, saying in some circumstances, treatment should be considered instead of prosecution.


The police are recognising that treatment works rather than just processing addicts through the court

Roger Howard, Drugscope
Drugs' groups have welcomed the report, saying ACPO had been moving in this direction for some time.

And the Home Office has pledged to study the findings.

Commander Andy Hayman, chairman of the ACPO committee that produced the report, said: "It is predominantly a health issue so what we're saying is that we should be matching the health issue with the health option.

"Rather than just putting people through the courts, surely it's sensible to try and put them into treatment and try and treat their habit."

Treatment supported

Roger Howard, chief executive of Drugscope, a research and drugs policy advisory body, said the proposals came as no surprise.

He said: "We strongly support efforts to get drug users quickly into treatment rather than using a prosecution and pressing criminal charges.


The anxiety we have working in the healthcare system is that we will get people who aren't primarily interested in treatment but who simply want to avoid going to prison

Dr William Shanahan
Treatment expert
"It is something Drugscope has already recommended to the Home Affairs Committee.

"This is a new and welcome departure in how we respond to the heavy end drug users.

"The police are recognising that treatment works rather than just processing addicts through the courts."

Dave Roberts, head of Liverpool rehabilitation centre the Independence Initiative, also welcomed the police chiefs' call.

"It makes sense to treat, train and develop people who have developed a problem of substance mis-use because they can break with it and they can create a new life," he said.

Enforcement call

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

Speaking on BBC News 24, she said: "The law isn't properly enforced.

"Unless you send out the message, not only that there is a law, but also that it will be enforced and then you enforce it properly with extra manpower and dedicated resources, then the present law won't work."

Ann Widdecombe
Ann Widdecombe: Law enforcement needed
She stressed the need for a dual policy of punishment and treatment.

She said: "You could perhaps make an agreement to treatment a case to mitigate or lower the punishment, but you still do both."

There was also a cautious response from some in the medical profession.

Drugs treatment specialist Dr William Shanahan told BBC News there was "anxiety" that people who simply wanted to avoid prison would take advantage of treatment if offered as an alternative.

But he added: "This doesn't mean they won't do well with treatment and I think it is a good idea to offer more people treatment."

More options

Commander Hayman, who is a Scotland Yard deputy assistant commissioner, said his committee's report was "timely" given recent government announcements, which have included the downgrading of cannabis.

He stressed that the overall aim of ACPO's drugs policy was to disrupt and reduce supply while working to achieve reduction in demand.

Last December, it emerged that police chiefs had examined proposals to issue heroin at police stations, to addicts.

However, chief constables reportedly remain opposed to the decriminalisation of drugs and are also against the downgrading of Ecstasy from class A to class B.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Richard Bilton
"Liverpool... is experienced with dealing with the problem"
Commander Andy Hayman
"We are still continuing our hard line on tackling dealers"
Magistrates Association's Harry Maudsley
"We have got to try something original"
 VOTE RESULTS
Drug addicts: What is the best approach?

Treatment
 87.93% 

Prosecution
 12.07% 

2096 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion


Talking PointTALKING POINT
Drug laws
Should addicts be treated or prosecuted?
See also:

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18 Jan 01 | UK
The drug addict's 'friend'
25 Feb 02 | England
Electronic dog sniffs out drugs
14 Jan 02 | Health
Clubbers' mental health risk
13 Mar 02 | England
Borough debates cannabis cafes
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