THINKPIECE: Improve drugs access to stop street dealers

ROY GURD, a team leader at Turning Point, Glastonbury

There is a need for a realistic debate on the drugs issue. I have been working in front-line substance use services for the past 11 years and have had to give many presentations on drugs and alcohol awareness during that time.

It is depressing that I still have to spend a good proportion of that time asking people to discard much of the information that they have acquired through the media or in political rhetoric.

We have to remember that the cross-departmental budget for the UK Anti-Drugs Co-ordination Unit is around £1.6 billion per year, the vast majority of which is spent on trying to enforce unenforceable laws. In some countries such as Malaysia, possession of relatively small amounts of heroin can carry the death penalty, but this still does not stop its use. If the death penalty will not deter users, then a prison sentence or "short, sharp shock" will definitely not.

New government initiatives land on my desk in a random fashion, and a significant proportion of my time is spent collating the information on which they will be reviewed, unless they are superseded by another initiative before the review date.

Harm reduction now seems to relate almost exclusively to reducing offending.

It seems that health issues, despite the prevalence of Hepatitis C and huge primary care needs of users, are not sexy in Westminster.

The fact of the matter is we need a grown-up debate on drugs. We need politicians who are honest enough to speak the unutterable. It is time to accept that if you cannot beat a problem, you must consider how to contain it.

I fully believe that improving access to substances such as heroin and cocaine would be an effective way of tackling the street market. I do not mean buying it in the corner shop, but something along the lines of the John Marks' State Rationing model.

In this model, drugs are distributed on a limited basis is in a clinical setting with conditions attached. Not only does this severely dent the profits to be made on the street but it also allows the user's physical and psychological status to be monitored.

I realise that this is contentious to many, but we should have learned from prohibition in the US. During that period, banned substances became desirable and increased in value.

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