HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html How Drugs War Failed
Pubdate: Tue, 05 Jul 2005
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Copyright: 2005 Guardian Newspapers Limited
Author: Alan Travis, home affairs editor
Note: Read the report here (105 page pdf):
Cited: Transform Drug Policy Foundation


Low Seizure Rates Give Traffickers Vast Profits From UKP4bn a Year 
Business, Says Report Ministers Refuse to Publish

The profit margins for major traffickers of heroin into Britain are 
so high they outstrip luxury goods companies such as Louis Vuitton 
and Gucci, according to a study that Downing Street is refusing to 
publish under freedom of information legislation.

Only the first half of the strategy unit study led by the former 
director general of the BBC, Lord Birt, was released last Friday. The 
other half was withheld but has been leaked to the Guardian.

Article continues It says that the traffickers enjoy such high 
profits that seizure rates of 60-80% are needed to have any serious 
impact on the flow of drugs into Britain but nothing greater than 20% 
has been achieved.

The study concludes that the estimated UK annual supply of heroin and 
cocaine could be transported into the country in five standard-sized 
shipping containers but has a value which at a conservative estimate 
tops AUKP4bn.

The report was presented in its full form to Tony Blair in June 2003. 
Only 52 of its 105 pages were published on Friday night on the eve of 
the Live 8 concert, with a note saying the rest was being withheld 
under the Freedom of Information Act.

The government yesterday defended its decision not to publish the 
half of the report that delivers a scathing verdict on efforts to 
disrupt the drugs supply chain. The first 50 pages deal with drug 
consumption patterns and drug-related crime.

A Downing Street spokeswoman said the second half contained 
information supplied by law enforcement agencies dealing with 
security matters, it concerned the formulation of government policy 
and its publication would be prejudicial to the conduct of public 
affairs. But critics last night said much of the unpublished material 
was already in the public domain.

Among the data suppressed because it was supplied by an agency 
involved in security is a table on page 12 from the National Criminal 
Intelligence Service showing average street prices for various drugs. 
It estimates the average cost for a heavy user at UKP89 a week for 
cannabis and UKP525 for crack cocaine - information that is 
presumably at the fingertips of every hardcore drug abuser and dealer 
in the country.

Opposition politicians last night criticised the partial suppression 
of the Birt report on drugs, saying it was a stark example of the 
misuse of the Freedom of Information Act.

The Liberal Democrats' home affairs spokesman, Mark Oaten, called on 
the information commissioner to order full disclosure. "What this 
report shows and what the government is too paranoid to admit is that 
the 'war on drugs' is a disaster. We need an evidence-led debate 
about the way forward but if they withhold the evidence we can't have 
the debate."

Danny Kushlik of the Transform drugs policy foundation, which 
campaigns for legalisation, said the government was using the act to 
hide the parts of the report which demonstrated that, far from 
reducing production, trafficking and supply, prohibition spawned the business.

"The fact that part of the report was released late on Friday night, 
right before Live 8 and the G8 meeting, shows how intent the 
government is on 'burying bad news'. Fortunately, they won't get away with it."

The suppressed pages say that the drugs supply market into Britain is 
sophisticated and attempts to intervene have not resulted in 
sustainable disruption to the market at any level. "Government 
interventions against the drug business are a cost of business, 
rather than a substantive threat to the industry's viability," it concludes.

An economic model made for Downing Street shows that the profits per 
kilo for a major Afghan trafficker into Britain carry a profit margin 
as high as 58% - higher than Louis Vuitton's margin of 48% or Gucci's 30%.

"Because upstream UK suppliers enjoy high profits, they are more able 
to absorb the cost of interception. Thus up stream seizures may 
temporarily impact street availability but are unlikely to threaten 
the viability of any individual business."

Emphasising the inadequacy of seizure rates, the study says the 
result over the past 10 to 15 years has been that, "despite 
interventions at every point in the supply chain, cocaine and heroin 
consumption has been rising, prices falling and drugs have continued 
to reach users".

It concludes that even if the government succeeded in reducing the 
availability of drugs, that could backfire because the most ad 
dicted, "high harm" users might commit more crimes to fund the 
purchase of ever more expensive drugs.

The report says the annual cost of crimes committed by an estimated 
280,000 high harm drug users to support their cocaine and heroin 
habits has reached UKP16bn a year - a figure which rises to UKP24bn 
if the costs to the nation's health and "social functioning harms" 
are included.

Only 20% of the 280,000 high harm drug users are receiving treatment 
or in prison at any one time. The report notes that those who are in 
treatment tend not to stay with it for long.

It says that more than 3 million people in the UK use illicit drugs 
every year and compares the 749 deaths annually from heroin and 
methadone with the 6,000 deaths from alcohol abuse and 100,000 from 
tobacco. It reveals that there are 674 hospital admissions on mental 
health grounds resulting from cannabis use, compared to 3,480 for heroin users.

The report says the drug supply business is large, highly flexible 
and very adaptable, and even if supply-side interventions were more 
effective it is not clear that the impact of the harm caused by 
serious drug users would be reduced.

It argues that targeting distributors and wholesalers does remove 
drugs before they hit the streets in small quantities but such 
operations are resource-intensive.

Equally, targeting street dealers helps reduce the social problems 
they cause but dealers are quickly replaced and only tiny quantities 
of drugs are removed from circulation.

The outlook for stopping drug production in developing countries is 
equally gloomy and embarrassing to the British government, which is 
leading attempts to curb heroin production in Afghanistan.

The report says a policy of compensated, forced eradication is very 
expensive and actually encourages further planting by farmers, while 
the alternative of a comprehensive set of development interventions 
is also expensive, takes time and might only displace cultivation to 
other countries.

The report was supposed to be phase one of Downing Street's 
reappraisal of official drugs policy.

In December 2003, phase two, titled Diagnoses and Recommendations and 
which also remains unpublished, was produced by Lord Birt. It ignored 
the reported ineffectiveness of the attempts to curb drug trafficking 
and recommended the compulsory treatment of arrested drug addicts. 
Powers to enable that are contained in the latest drugs legislation.
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