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Sunday 19 June 2011

CPS – Missing The Point

As the UK and USA mark 40 years of the “War on Drugs”, and Governments in both countries are urged to look anew at their approach to the use of currently illegal substances, there has been an intervention from the Centre For Policy Studies (CPS), the right leaning “think tank” founded back in 1974 by Keith Joseph and Margaret Thatcher.

The CPS, which has previously labelled the UK’s drugs policy as “liberal”, is putting its argument in broad brush money terms, pitching figures such as the annual £730 million for prescribing methadone to heroin addicts, £1.7 billion annually paid in benefits to them, and £1.2 billion on looking after addicts’ children. The CPS wants to see a move towards rehabilitation.

And their argument completely misses the point. The sign that the CPS is utterly clueless on this matter is its depiction of current drugs policy as “liberal”. Liberal it is not: that would have been true in the late 1960s, before the Misuse of Drugs Act came into force. And at that time, the UK had around 500 heroin users.

Forty years on from making heroin use illegal, that number had grown to half a million. That most basic of statistics tells anyone prepared to listen that the “war on drugs” has been well and truly lost. Drugs policy, far from being “liberal”, has been blatantly illiberal, with criminalisation of use and supply gifting a once in a lifetime business opportunity to organised criminality.

Of this, the CPS makes no mention. Nor does it discuss the urgent need to decriminalise the use of currently illegal drugs, an action which would on its own shift the emphasis towards making that use a health issue – which the CPS appears to want to happen. That methadone is often an ineffective way of getting heroin addicts off drugs completely may be true, but that fails to look at the problem in its entirety.

The CPS does not address the grip in which organised criminality holds the market for currently illegal drugs. Therefore it also fails to address the total lack of quality control, which makes those drugs far more dangerous. Its language is still couched in terms of criminalising users. And worst of all, the elephant in the room – that the “War on Drugs” has been lost – is ignored.

Treatment for addiction can only begin once the addict has admitted that they have a problem. The CPS has a problem, but cannot admit it. The painting of the problem in terms of benefit and prescription costs shows that the CPS is hooked on maintenance of the status quo. Thus it is that the CPS is yet another addict in denial.

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