Pubdate: Thu, 31 Jul 2008
Source: Scotsman (UK)
Copyright: 2008 The Scotsman Publications Ltd
Author: Michael Howie
Referenced: The UK Drug Policy Commission report
Bookmark: (Cannabis - United Kingdom)
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Heroin)
Bookmark: (Treatment)


THE UK police's "war on drugs" has failed seriously to dent the market
for cannabis, cocaine, heroin and other illegal substances, according
to a report published yesterday.

The UK Drug Policy Commission report found the UKP 5.3 billion drugs
market was proving "extremely resilient" to crackdowns by law
enforcement agencies, despite hundreds of millions of pounds spent
each year on tackling the problem.

It claims even significant drug seizures and high-profile convictions
of traffickers and dealers rarely affect supply or demand, because of
the scale of the market and its ability to adapt quickly to

For example, in times of short supply dealers often reduce purity, it

Despite the increase in drug seizures, the report says only around 10
per cent of drugs imported into the UK are seized by police and customs.

It says law enforcement has kept a lid on the problem without reducing
overall levels of supply and demand.

The percentage of drugs seized would have to reach 60 to 80 per cent
to put major traffickers out of business.

Tim McSweeney, one of the report authors, said: "There is a consistent
call for a better understanding of how drug markets operate and the
role enforcement can have in reducing the damage caused by them.

"We were struck by just how little evidence there is to show that the
hundreds of millions of pounds spent on UK enforcement each year has
made a sustainable impact and represents value for money."

The report calls for more action to reduce drugs' effects on
communities, for instance, by tackling drugs-related "collateral
damage", such as gang violence and prostitution.

The authors argue that this would have a greater impact than big

David Blakey, of the UK Drug Policy Commission, said police should
concentrate more resources on tackling local drug dealers and reducing
harm in communities.

"All enforcement agencies aim to reduce drug harms and most have
formed local partnerships to do this, but they still tend to be judged
by measures of traditional supply-side activity, such as seizure
rates," he said.

"Of course, drug dealers must be brought to justice, but we should
recognise and encourage the wider role the police and other law
enforcement officials can play in reducing the impact of drug markets."

The report says that Britain's illicit drugs market is regarded as one
of the most lucrative in the world, worth an estimated UKP 5.3
billion, with crack and heroin accounting for about half the
expenditure on drugs.

In Scotland, the number of drug seizures has increased by roughly 50
per cent in the past decade, from nearly 15,000 in 1996-97 to 21,000
in 2006-7.

Despite this, the price of hard drugs has fallen in recent years and
drug deaths have increased, as has the use of cocaine among young people.

Meanwhile, the number of addicts is believed to have fallen only
slightly, with about 51,000 people estimated to be "problematic" drug

Over the past four years more than UKP 85 million has been spent on
the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency, which is leading the
crackdown on the supply of drugs.

The agency has scored some notable successes, with UKP 7.5 million
worth of drugs seized in 2006-7.

Yesterday, the agency's national drugs co-ordinator, Willie McColl,
insisted that tough enforcement remained vital to tackling the scourge
of drugs.

He said: "Taking dealers and drugs off the street remains an important
element of our overall approach to tackling organised crime and
protecting vulnerable people in our society.

"Enforcement activity is also about much more than kicking down
doors," he said. "We are forging new partnerships all the time,
whether it is with utility companies to help forces detect cannabis
cultivation, or road hauliers to gather intelligence on transportation
of drugs into Scotland.

"However, it is widely recognised within policing that there is a need
to reduce the harm associated with drugs, as well as the demand."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "Our national drugs strategy has
recovery at its core -- and communities, as well as individuals,
should benefit from that focus."

Overseas, a wide variety of strategies have been tried -- from
prescribed heroin in Sweden and legalised cannabis in the Netherlands
to "zero tolerance" in many south-east Asian countries.

Harry Shapiro, of the charity DrugScope, said tough law enforcement
often came at the expense of human rights.

Three Key Steps to Helping Scotland Beat Addiction

STRIPPING many more assets from Scotland's drug barons would put a
serious hole in the supply of drugs, according to Professor Neil McKeganey.

The drugs misuse research expert at Glasgow University is worried that
people will conclude from yesterday's report that enforcement is

But he believes police and other authorities have to get much better
at hitting drug dealers in the pocket.

"To seriously reduce the supply of drugs into the UK and Scotland, I
think we need to be much more successful at seizing the assets of drug

"Research shows that this causes more disruption to and worry among
those involved in the drugs trade than anything else. We need to be
seizing in excess of UKP 100 million a year -- at the moment we are
recovering only a fraction of that."

Prof McKeganey believes that new measures to disrupt drug dealers will
also help to reduce supply.

These include not allowing known dealers to own more than one mobile
phone, carry more than UKP 1,000 or apply for a loan.

He adds: "We also need a much tougher approach with regards to the
countries which produce drugs for the UK: 90 per cent of heroin
consumed in the UK is produced in Afghanistan and yet Britain has not
made any significant progress in reducing production here."

THE demand for drugs in Scotland would be significantly lower if
every addict was able to receive immediate treatment. That is the view
of Dr Jane Jay, who chairs the national drug-related deaths forum.

"We need to get more people into treatment. There might then be much
less necessity to have drugs on the streets," she said.

Waiting lists in some parts of the country mean many addicts who want
help are unable to get it. "I think we need more resources and better
organisation of services. There's no doubt about that."

She says more also has to be done to keep people on treatment. All too
often, addicts who begin treatment find help being interrupted when
they are hauled into prison for a drug-related offence.

Dr Jay says she supports the Scottish Government's drugs strategy,
which focuses on getting people off drugs altogether rather than
managing the problem.

Research is under way to find out the number of drug addicts in
Scotland, with the figure of 51,000 that is currently used being
several years out of date.

But one statistic that is certain is the rising number of deaths from
drug abuse: from 244 in 1996 to 421 in 2006. The figure leapt by 85
between 2005 and 2006 alone.

ONLY by reducing poverty and deprivation will Scotland be able to
make serious and lasting inroads into its drugs problem, according to
one expert group.

David Liddell, director of the Scottish Drugs Forum, argues that the
impact of tough law-enforcement has been minimal.

"The fact that street drugs in Scotland are relatively cheap and easy
to obtain, along with the demand for treatment services and care
services for children affected by family drug problems, show only too
clearly that traditional law-enforcement measures have very limited
impact on drug markets in local communities," he says.

Mr Liddell believes police should continue to pursue high-level
dealers -- but says attention should switch to the causes of drug abuse.

He says: "There is strong evidence that society would be better served
by creating a better balance on spending priorities, so more is spent
on tackling the root causes of problem drug-use such as poverty,
health inequalities and lack of appropriate access to meaningful jobs,
education and training.

"Regenerating communities, so that people have a sense of optimism and
aspiration for their lives, is what will reduce the despair and apathy
lying behind the overwhelming majority of problems associated with
illicit drugs." 
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