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EDITIONS
Thursday, 18 July, 2002, 05:55 GMT 06:55 UK
Millions promised for fight against drugs
Heroin user injecting
Use of heroin has increased across the region recently
Police chiefs in Wales have been promised Welsh Assembly cash to continue their war on drugs - if a bid for funding from Westminster fails.

Chief constables from three forces in Wales - south Wales, Gwent, and Dyfed Powys - have applied to the UK Government to fund a specialist drugs team.

But assembly Communities Minister Edwina Hart said she was ready to intervene because she feared Home Secretary David Blunkett might not be able to provide all the cash needed.

Drug facts
Heroin arrests up by 80%
Big rise in drug-related deaths across south Wales
1.6bn spent in UK on drug issues
200,000 problem drug users in England and Wales
That is, 3% of all drug users
The planned specialist narcotics unit will aim at clamping down on the supply of heroin and crack cocaine to more than 7,500 users in south Wales.

They commit 70% of all burglaries, robberies and credit card crime, spending 11m on their habit.

The south Wales valleys have seen a steady rise in drug-related deaths as dealers move across the border from England.

Seven drug deaths were reported in the region in a recent six-week period.

It has been estimated that 12 people overdose on heroin each week in the Rhondda Cynon Taff authority area, according to estimates.

Cardiff intervention

Workers at Morgannwg Drug and Alcohol Action Team have said 2m is needed to treat drug users at clinics.

Local MP Chris Bryant challenged Prime Minister Tony Blair in May to take action to halt the problems in the area.

His he appealed for a multi-agency approach co-ordinated by both the Welsh Assembly and the UK Government.

Rhondda Valley
The valleys drug problem is gripping communities
The devolved assembly has no responsibility for crime and disorder, which remains in the keep of Home Office ministers at Westminster.

This means any Welsh drugs unit should normally be centrally-funded.

Where the money comes from will matter little to the families of drug users across Wales - which has the cheapest heroin in the UK.

Arrests for heroin possession, and seizure of the drug, rose by more than 80% in the last year, according to South Wales Police.

Gun culture

The force has warned of an imminent epidemic as drug dealers from Bristol, Birmingham and Liverpool target growing markets in Wales.

Suppliers have been accused of ripping apart communities, bringing with them a culture of violence and guns which threatens to destroy the close-knit valleys.

In a June cabinet re-shuffle, Finance Minister Edwina Hart took on responsibility for communities and action on drug and alcohol abuse and she has quickly decided action is needed.

At a Thursday meeting, she will tell South Wales Police, Gwent Police and Dyfed-Powys Police chief constables of her pledge to bail out their plan if they cannot secure central funding.

Partnership 'vital'

But their cause may have been helped on Wednesday when Labour's junior Welsh Office minister Don Touhig told the House of Commons partnership between Wales and England on tackling drusg was "vital".

"Cross-border cooperation is vitally important if we are to rid ourselves of this misery," he told MPs.

"The police forces have created a joint specialised drugs unit and are diverting resources into combating drug misuse."

And he revealed Welsh Secretary Paul Murphy had already met with the three police chiefs to discuss south Wales' increased drugs flow.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC Wales' Gail Foley
"70% of all burglaries, robberies and credit card crime is committed by addicts"

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See also:

22 May 02 | Wales
08 Mar 02 | Wales
03 Apr 02 | Wales
22 Jan 01 | Wales
22 Feb 00 | J-M
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