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Lancaster students are calling for new policy to address the dangerously high rates of drug-related death and to recognise drug addiction as just that, addiction…not a “lifestyle.”
According to recent reports, Boris Johnson is expected to release a 10-year plan to tackle drug related crime, including the temporary confiscation of passports and driving licenses from Class A drug users. However, in light of the £4.1m cut to the public health budget by Lancashire Local Authorities in 2019 and the further 17% cut to funding for drug & alcohol services this year, Lancaster University students are condemning Johnson’s “war on drugs” as a “pointless endeavor” that will do very little to address the rise in drug related death across the UK.
Following the release of the second instalment of Dame Carol Black’s independent review of drugs in July, illegal drug abuse has been forced into the spotlight. With drug related death at record height, having increased by almost 80% since 2012, the demand for opiates and crack/cocaine has soared with the annual estimated value of the UK Drug Market rising to £9.4bn.
Since funding cuts in 2010, tackling drug abuse has fallen down the priority list for nearly all police forces despite traditionally playing a vital role in local authority-based Drug Action Teams focused on social care, health, housing and education to develop “collaborative local strategies to address substance misuse.”
In 2013, following the Health & Social Care Act of the previous year, Home Office decided to cancel central funding for the Drug Intervention Programme as well as severely divest in drug treatment services with numerous Local Authorities facing up to 40% reductions in funding.
Due to these concerning cuts to not only funds but equally recruitment, Dame Carol Black’s review suggests that “even if these organisations were sufficiently resourced it is not clear that they would be able to bring about a sustained reduction in drug supply, given the resilience and flexibility of illicit drug markets.”
However, despite this conclusion, Boris Johnson has refused to deviate from the “tired tough-on-drugs narrative, one that we have had in the UK for decades.” Determined to reduce the ‘enjoyment’ of Class A drug users as well as drug related violence via County Lines, Johnson has proposed the following:
- £300m to be invested in commitment to dismantle more than 2,000 County Lines and making thousand more arrests
- Investment into the County Lines Programme, targeting the road and rail networks and protecting those exploited and supporting them to rebuild their lives
- Expanding drug testing on arrest and supporting police forces to test more individuals
- Casual Class A drug users to face temporary confiscation of passports and driving licenses
- Developing out of court disposal projects to ensure those who misuse drugs face tougher consequences
- Police Officers given the power to go through drug dealer’s seized phones and contact clients with a range of messages to discourage their drug use and direct them to getting support
- £780m allocated in funds for the drug treatment system in England, which is understood to be made available to only 50 Local Authorities
Although increased funding for drug treatment – despite being restricted to 50 Local Authorities – has been welcomed, campaigners have already begun to express their disappointment for the focus on punitive sentences for users, particularly the temporary confiscation of passports and driving licenses.
Recognising Britain as going backwards, embracing a Nixon-style ‘war on drugs’, campaigners and students alike are calling for new policy to address the dangerously high rates of drug-related death and to recognise drug addiction as just that, addiction not a “lifestyle.”
Concerns over substance addiction being vilified instead of considered a mental illness have arisen after Boris Johnson declared in interview that “what I want to see is a world in which we have penalties for lifestyle drug users that will seriously interfere with their enjoyment of their own lifestyle.”
According to self-reported statistics gathered from Lancaster students via Instagram, 74% of students agreed that the confiscation of passports and driving licenses for Class A drug users would not prevent drug abuse.
Several students made further comment with one student expressing that, “I really doubt taking something like that away from them would deter them from consuming again” whilst another student responded that, “the penalties for Class A drugs are already life-destroying, what good does passports do?”
When asked whether investment into the County Lines Programme designed to target drug trafficking and rehabilitate those exploited was the right course of action when seen alongside the severely underfunded drug treatment system, particularly in Lancashire with fewer than 100 places available in rehab due to an approved £4.1m cut to the public health budget in 2019, 85% of students believed the focus should be on rehab rather than targeting drug dealers.
Although funding should go towards enforcing drug abuse, rehabilitation for drug addicts should always be the primary course of action. More support is needed for real change to be made in helping those suffering from drug addiction, especially with the majority of drug related deaths occurring in addicts leaving prison as noted in Dame Carol Black’s review. Whilst in custody, drug user’s restricted access to illicit substances can reduce physical tolerance, leading to greater risk of accidental overdose when relapsing upon release. Prisoners tend to serve short sentences for drug misuse resulting in limited access to underfunded prison treatment and a lack of support when returning to the community.
During an interview conducted by SCAN, a former Class A casual user expressed that, “I honestly think punishing heavy users of Class A’s such as heroine etc is going to do nothing more than make it more difficult to care for these people, no id means it is gonna be harder to help them within the system.
“If they really wanted results they should look at rehabilitation where users can slowly be taken off the drug, where they wouldn’t experience such drastic withdrawals. An example would be to look at Portugal who have since 2001 changed their approach to drugs to be more health oriented. This has led to lower deaths and lower prison sentences.
“Instead of putting funding into this and the sentencing of drug users they should instead put that funding into rehabilitation.”