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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 October 2005, 07:59 GMT 08:59 UK
'Get past celebrity drug debate'
Interview
By Ollie Stone-Lee
BBC News political reporter

Kate Moss
Drugs minister Paul Goggins says celebrities should be treated as anybody else
The debate on drugs must get beyond headlines about celebrities and become more mature, Drugs Minister Paul Goggins has said.

After the rash of stories about supermodel Kate Moss' alleged cocaine abuse, Mr Goggins says there is no need for a "counsel of despair" about drugs.

On Thursday he will start a tour of England to try to show how the government is tackling the problem.

The tour comes after a bleak report on drugs from Tony Blair's top thinkers.

A report from the prime minister's strategy unit, written in 2003 but only published in July through freedom of information laws and leaks, said there had been no sustainable disruption of the drugs market at any level over the past 20 years.

Roadshow

Mr Goggins was interviewed by the BBC News website as part of a major series of articles about drugs in the UK.

BRITAIN'S DRUGS HABIT
The BBC News website is exploring drugs in Britain in a special series of features.
We look at how drugs get here, who uses them and whether current anti-drugs strategies are working.

Over the next month he will hold nine regional events about drugs policies in cities such as Salford, Durham, Gloucester and Hull.

The idea is to give local residents, police and councillors the chance to question him.

He said: "We need to have a slightly more mature debate about the drugs strategy because we're constantly bombarded with stories in the media about individuals and problems of drug misuse and the impact they have.

"And I think we need to balance that out with more information about what precisely the government's doing and what the impact is and the fact that drug misuse of the most serious drugs is at worst stable, and in some areas we may begin to see some reductions."

He particularly wants to counter what he sees as a "popular misconception that drug misuse is escalating out of control".

Celebrity treatment

By coincidence, the tour follows supermodel Kate Moss losing lucrative advertising contracts after claims she snorted cocaine.

Mr Goggins would not comment on any particular celebrity but said such headlines opened up the wider drugs debate.

There must an "unremitting" message to young people that "drugs are bad for you," he said.

Paul Goggins
Mr Goggins is pleased more drugs are being seized

"The thing about role models is they should be treated in exactly the same way as anybody else.

"They should not be given treatment either more severe or less severe either in the criticism or in the treatment than anybody else.

"Anybody who has a problem needs to change their behaviour and the job of government is to be there to make sure that they get supported in that."

Asked if that meant celebrities should lose their jobs - as happened to Ms Moss - he replied: "That's for others to decide."

Why not legalise?

Cocaine is now the second most widely taken drug after cannabis, with 755,000 users in England and Wales, according to the British Crime Survey.

Mr Goggins said he was concerned about cocaine but said use of the drug was relatively stable overall, despite some evidence it had increased for over-25s.

Cocaine powder
Cocaine is now the second most popular drug in the UK after cannabis
The drugs debate was given a shake-up earlier this summer by the publication in the Guardian newspaper of the strategy unit report.

It said the supply of drugs had increased and prices were low enough not to deter people taking up drugs, but high enough to make heavy users commit crime to feed their habits.

Advocates of legalisation seized upon the report to support their cause. Mr Goggins said it was interesting but should not be taken to reflect government policy.

"There are people who believe in legalisation in principle and there are people who believe in legalisation out of a pragmatic sense of complete failure," he said.

"I'd reject both of those arguments out of hand."

'Don't despair'

Cabinet minister Tessa Jowell earlier this year said prohibition did not work for tobacco, alcohol and gambling - so why are illegal drugs different?

We're posing a tough choice for people, saying 'we're prepared to offer you treatment... but you've got to be prepared to get off drugs, to stay out of crime'

Mr Goggins said there was no reason to give ground on harmful illegal drugs just because drinking and smoking have been allowed in the UK's history.

He warned: "If you legalise them then far more people would be using them and that overall would be doing far more harm to our society than is currently the case."

Instead of adopting a "counsel of despair", the government must stick resolutely to its strategy, he argued.

With the focus now on turning that strategy into reality, Mr Goggins said a "step change" in resources meant the government was half way towards its target of 1,000 people into treatment a week by 2008.

He predicted: "Once we get this kind of critical mass developing I think we will see a bigger impact in terms of the number of people coming off drugs and the number of people therefore not committing crimes to feed that habit."

'Tough choice'

He said property crime, often related to drugs, fell by 12% in the year to April 2005.

People charged with offences can already be tested for drugs.
Key trends in UK drug use

Parliament has agreed to extend the power to anybody arrested - something which looks set to be rolled out this autumn, possibly tied to a drugs conference being attended by Tony Blair.

"Increasingly what we're doing is posing a tough choice for people," said Mr Goggins.

"It's about saying 'this is a serious issue, we're prepared to offer you treatment, help and support but you've got to be prepared to get off drugs, to stay out of crime...

"'And by the way, if you are not going to co-operate with that, well there are going to be some consequences.'"

Does treatment work?

Critics say the problem with putting so much attention on treatment is that only about a third of people finish the course.

Mr Goggins acknowledges quality, not just quantity, of treatment is vital but he said signs from early trials show pushing people into treatment can work.

"These were people who were thieving every day to feed a very expensive drug habit and at the end of the treatment they'd stopped and that's quite impressive," he said.

The latest evidence suggests more than half of those on all types of treatment are lasting the course, he says.

Mr Goggins is also upbeat about efforts to disrupt the supply of drugs, pointing to figures released in August showing more drugs were seized from fewer raids in 2003 than 2002.

The minister believes the rates will increase as the new Serious Organised Crime Agency begins work. And he also pointed to new measures to seize drug dealers' assets.

But the strategy unit report suggested successful drug traffickers were only put out of business if more than 60% of their drugs were seized.

Mr Goggins' response is simple: "What I'm responsible for is not the drugs strategy unit report but for the drugs strategy."

Newspaper headlines then are perhaps the least of his worries.




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