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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 October 2005, 09:45 GMT 10:45 UK
Viewpoints: Britain's drugs habit
As part of our special series on Britain's drugs use, we asked four experts to explain where they thought the UK's drugs policy should - or would - be in 10 years' time.

Click on the names below to read their comments in full.

Prohibition's continuing failures will be exposed to ever more scrutiny

DrugScope would like to see the UK take its place at the cutting edge of harm reduction
The capacity of drug abuse to destabilise our society could be matched by terrorism alone
Drug users across the globe are utilising their specialist knowledge to help and support others


DANNY KUSHLICK
Director of Transform Drug Policy Foundation which lobbies for legalisation and regulation of drugs

In 1961 over 150 member states signed the first UN Convention on drugs codifying prohibition as the overarching global regime for a specific selection of drugs - including heroin, cocaine and cannabis.

Over 40 years later, all the evidence is that global drug policy - prohibition, the so-called 'War on Drugs' - is not only futile, but that it is actively counterproductive.

Danny Kushlick
We have reached the end of the line. The writing is on the wall for drug prohibition
Over those four decades the drugs business has grown into one of the largest commodity trades on earth.

When high demand for drugs collides with laws that prohibit them, the result is a dramatic rise in drug prices, with low value commodities becoming, quite literally, worth more than their weight in gold.

The hugely lucrative opportunities that this creates attract the violent criminal entrepreneurs who control the world's largest criminal markets, worth 300bn a year.

These illicit profits have contributed to the political and economic destabilisation of Latin America, Afghanistan, the Caribbean and South East Asia. In the West the price hike has doubled acquisitive crime and the prison population.

According to a leaked report from the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit, "Government interventions against the drug business are a cost of business, rather than a substantive threat to the industry's viability."

As a consequence of the failure of supply-side enforcement, government initiatives have focused on coercing offenders whose crimes are related to their drug use into treatment.

This too has singularly failed to reduce crime or the prison population substantially.

We have reached the end of the line. The writing is on the wall for drug prohibition. Over the next 10 years, prohibition's continuing failures will be exposed to ever more scrutiny.

By 2015, I predict overall responsibility for illegal drugs will lie with the Department of Health and plans for the dismantling of global prohibition will be well advanced.

By 2020 prohibition will have been consigned to the policy dustbin, and replaced with government-regulated markets.

MARTIN BARNES
Chief Executive of DrugScope, an independent drugs information body

After nearly two decades the upward trend in drug use among adults has stabilised, with promising signs of falling use among children and young people, particularly for Class A drugs.

If these trends continue, as the numbers accessing treatment services continue to increase over the next few years, the number of problem drug users should decline.

Although progress in reducing the harms caused by drugs is being made, there is no room for complacency.

There is a case for the piloting of drug consumption rooms, which in other countries have reduced infections and overdose without an increase in drug use
Too many people fail to complete treatment, up to a quarter of places in residential rehabilitation services are unfilled and specialist units for young people have closed in spite of the overall increase in spending on drug treatment.

The government recognises the need to improve the effectiveness of drug treatment with a greater emphasis on 'aftercare' support such as housing, employment and training.

This requires sustained investment and closer partnership working, together with a better understanding of both of drug use and problem drug users, and the particular challenges they face.

Many people misusing drugs or alcohol also have poor mental and physical health. Too often they and their families face stigma and isolation, and this extends to an estimated quarter of a million children with a drug misusing parent.

DrugScope would like to see the United Kingdom take its place at the cutting edge of harm reduction work over the next ten years. In the past we have taken some important steps in this field, but more could be done.

HAVE YOUR SAY
After a hard day at work I go home and have a few joints of cannabis instead of a few pints of beer. Unfortunately I am classed as a criminal.
Alex, Surrey UK

We believe that prescribing heroin is a useful tool in enabling some users to gain control over their drug use, and would like to see the practice expanded so that is more widely available.

Despite an expansion of needle exchanges for injecting drug users, there is evidence of an increase in HIV and hepatitis C infections, particularly among younger injecting drug users.

There is a case for the piloting of drug consumption rooms, which in other countries have reduced infections and overdose without an increase in drug use.

Drug education and prevention activities to steer children and young people away from drugs help ensure they do not become the problem drug users of tomorrow.

Tackling drugs should be a goal for the government's social justice agenda.

NEIL McKEGANEY
Professor of drug misuse research, University of Glasgow

In the 1950s we used to count our addicts in the hundreds; we now count them in the hundreds of thousands.

In 10 years' time we may reach the one million mark. At the present time heroin abuse in the UK kills around 2000 people every 12 months - year in, year out with almost metronomic regularity.

It has been estimated that somewhere in the region of 60% to 70% of all crimes are connected to illegal drugs.

Our education system works to prevent drug abuse and we spend something in the region of 500 million each year treating drug addicts.

Society may be able to cope with only a tiny percentage of its population addicted to illegal drugs
Many of our prisons are overwhelmed by drug users to the point that they have become little more than holding stations for our addict population.

Problematic drug use is like a telescope. At the thin end of that telescope is an addict population thought to be around 350,000.

At the fat end, magnified many times over, is the vast array of problems for individuals, families, and communities that go hand in hand with dependent drug use.

If we are to tackle the UK drug problem we have to succeed in international efforts at confiscating drug dealers' assets counted not in the millions but in the hundreds of millions.

We need to expand many times over the number of treatment places for addicts and we will need to protect those communities where drug use, drug dealing, and drug related anti social behaviour have become the norm.

We tend to think that society will always be able to cope with the level of its drug problem irrespective of the number of addicts involved.

In fact, however, society may be able to cope with only a tiny percentage of its population addicted to illegal drugs.

If that is the case the capacity of drug abuse to destabilise our society could be matched by terrorism alone and could well surpass it in the next 10 years.

ERIN O'MARA
Editor of Black Poppy magazine, written by and for users of heroin and other drugs

Central to almost every discussion held about drugs, drug users have been the talked about, the talked to, the treated, and the told.

Erin O'Mara reads Black Poppy
Erin O'Mara, editor of Black Poppy
We are a community that has almost no personal or collective narrative aside from the prescribed views and opinions of an ill-informed medical establishment and a frightened society.

The drugs war itself has been painful and very personal, it has meant a war against drug users and there has been a consistent effort to exclude them, disengage them and disempower them.

It manifests itself in filling prisons, arming terrorists and destroying lives across the world.

But there has been a backlash forming.

The road ahead is being carved out by a worldwide collective of former and current drug users who are recognising that they have the tools - that power of personal experience - to bring new ideas and solutions to a drugs field in desperate need of a new direction.

From drug prevention to treatment and the formation of drug policies and strategies, users are creating impassioned discussion and implementing ideas.

Drug users across the globe are developing and utilising their very specialist knowledge and unique perspective in order to help and support others.

Their experiences are not wasted, not deviant, not 'failing' but will become instrumental in finding our way out of dead-end drug policies, treatments and approaches.

The drug users movement will continue regardless of the shape of things to come because drugs will always be here.

Drug users will certainly keep banging on doors to be involved in changes to the drugs field.




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