Pubdate: Sun, 26 Apr 1998
Source: Sunday Times (UK)
Contact:   Nicholas Rufford Home Affairs Editor


POLICE will pay for the treatment of drug addicts who commit crimes instead
of always prosecuting them in the biggest overhaul of Britain's drug policy
for 27 years.

The move, part of the government's grand anti-drug plan to be announced
tomorrow, represents a radical shift away from enforcement measures towards
rehabilitation and schemes to prevent drug abuse.

Keith Hellawell, the drug tsar, has told ministers that a greater
proportion of the 500m a year spent by the government on tackling drug
abuse should go to education and treating addicts, rather than pursuing
users of soft drugs who cause no harm to others.

New performance targets for police forces will encourage them to fight
heroin, the source of most drug-related crime. Government research has
shown that heroin users commit five crimes a week on average. The existing
targets do not differentiate between types of drugs.

Chief constables will be encouraged to follow the example set by the
Metropolitan police, who rarely prosecute cannabis users for their first
offence and send heroin addicts for treatment.

"Focusing enforcement on aspects of drug use or abuse that cause the
greatest harm might release resources to do other things," said Denis
O'Connor, the assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan police in charge
of anti-drug strategy.

"We are already signed up to the need for rehabilitation because it works.
Making a [financial] contribution to that I don't see as wild or mad."

The Cabinet Office, which is publishing the strategy, wants to double the
40m already spent on treatment for drug offenders and believes police
should contribute in the interests of crime prevention.

Heroin addicts who steal to raise money for drugs would be required to
go through "cold turkey" withdrawal and then have counselling, or be put on
a course of methadone.

Under existing arrangements, drug offenders are frequently charged and then
released on bail, enabling them to commit more crimes.

Critics said the proposals would pander to offenders.

Dr Adrian Rogers, director of the Conservative Family Institute, said: "You
don't deal with drugs by counselling. You need draconian punishments and a
culture which says that drug abusers are sad, bad and dangerous. Once you
regard them as victims, you are doomed."

However, Roger Howard, chief executive of the Standing Conference on Drug
Abuse, welcomed the initiative. "It must be good news that police resources
and efforts are channelled more into treatment, which is seriously
underfunded," he said.

Hellawell will announce that the cost of drug abuse - social, economic and
health-related - is 4 billion a year, twice the previous estimate. Writing
in The Sunday Times today, he says: "I want to make sure those who offend
to feed their drug habit take part in treatment to wean them off the cycle
of drugs and crime.

"Research on those referred to drug treatment after their arrest shows that
one in four no longer uses any form of drugs and more than half had reduced
their use."

Although Hellawell will rule out legalisation of cannabis, he will
acknowledge that not all drug users are addicts and not all drugs are

He will confirm a report in The Sunday Times last month that primary school
children are to be given lessons on drugs.

"We should teach all young people about the dangers of drugs from a very
early age," he said. "There is no evidence to support the argument that
more knowledge encourages drug misuse."

Hellawell blamed 'departmentalitis" among government agencies for past
failures. "Each department or agency, whether health, education, customs or
the police, set its own targets and worked too much in isolation," he said.