Durham Police and Crime Commissioner Ron Hogg has criticised UK drug policy, saying measures taken to stop the illegal trade “aren’t working”.
He has called for an end of treating drug users as criminals in talks with the Home Office and the Labour Party, saying users should be offered medical treatment instead of facing prosecution.
Speaking to the Chronicle about the matter, Mr Hogg said: “The proposal I would support at the moment is taking the user out of the criminal justice system. So possession of a drug for personal use would not then constitute a criminal offence. We need to get people into treatment.”
Noting that a similar approached has been tested in Portugal, he added that “what they saw as a consequence was that drug usage fell. There were more people than ever in treatment and rehabilitation. And we see that money has been taken out of the pocket of organised crime groups.”
The North East has the highest rate of drug-related deaths in the UK, and despite the Home Office channelling £1.6 billion into anti-drug enforcement in just one year across 2014 to 2015, the ministerial department admitted that “it appears that drugs are still widely available to those who want them.”
Further commenting on the failures of traditional drug policy, Mr Hogg said: “We run regular operations against organised crime groups. It may take between six to 12 months to gather intelligence. An operation may cost half a million pounds, maybe approaching a million pounds, to take these people out.
“We ask addicts how long does this interrupt the supply of drugs for? The answer is two to four hours. So we have to ask, is this really a cost effective way of dealing with things?
“If you look at the death rate we have, and you saw the figures the other week, 77.4 deaths per million here in the North East - if we look across Europe our drug induced death rate from legal and illegal substances is three times higher than the European average.
“We have twice as many drug induced deaths, about 3,400, as we have fatalities on the road. Therefore I put all of those things together and say this is a policy that is not working.
Mr Hogg has welcomed proposals in a new drugs strategy published by the Home Office in July which appeared to call for a greater focus on treating users of all illegal drugs, including plans for a “recovery champion” to help the transition for addicts getting back into employment and housing, but noted that “those sorts of initiatives I’d support and I welcome them, but it just doesn’t go far enough and it’s not radical enough.
“The Government do need to change their approach very radically. They need to base their approach on evidence. And at the moment, they are ignoring the evidence.”
Patrick Hinton is Mixmag's Digital Staff Writer, follow him on Twitter