War on illegal drugs failing, medical researchers warn

 
A syringe and heroin on a spoon The report said drug prices had fallen in real terms over 20 years, while purity had increased

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Illegal drugs are now cheaper and purer globally than at any time over the last 20 years, a report has warned.

The International Centre for Science in Drug Policy said its report suggested the war on drugs had failed.

The report, published in the British Medical Journal Open, looked at data from seven international government-funded drug surveillance systems.

Its researchers said it was time to consider drug use a public health issue rather than a criminal justice issue.

The seven drug surveillance systems the study looked at had at least 10 years of information on the price and purity of cannabis, cocaine and opiates, including heroin.

The report said street prices of drugs had fallen in real terms between 1990 and 2010, while their purity and potency had increased.

In Europe, for example, the average price of opiates and cocaine, adjusted for inflation and purity, decreased by 74% and 51% respectively between 1990 and 2010, the Vancouver-based centre said.

The report also found there had been a substantial increase in most parts of the world in the amount of cocaine, heroin and cannabis seized by law enforcement agencies since 1990.

Most national drug control strategies have focused on law enforcement to curb supply despite calls to explore other approaches, such as decriminalisation and strict legal regulation, it said.

It concluded: "These findings suggest that expanding efforts at controlling the global illegal drug market through law enforcement are failing."

Start Quote

We desperately need to shift the regime from a prohibitionist one to one of legal regulation”

End Quote Transform Drug Policy Foundation

Co-author Dr Evan Wood, scientific chairman of the centre, said: "We should look to implement policies that place community health and safety at the forefront of our efforts, and consider drug use a public health issue rather than a criminal justice issue.

"With the recognition that efforts to reduce drug supply are unlikely to be successful, there is a clear need to scale up addiction treatment and other strategies that can effectively reduce drug-related harm."

The study comes two days after a senior UK police officer said class A drugs should be decriminalised.

On Sunday, Chief Constable Mike Barton, of Durham Police, said drug addicts should be "treated and cared for, not criminalised".

The chief constable, who is the intelligence lead for the Association of Chief Police Officers, told the Observer he believed decriminalisation would take away the income of dealers, destroy their power, and that a "controlled environment" would be a more successful way of tackling the issue.

He said prohibition had put billions of pounds into the hands of criminals and called for an open debate on the problems caused by drugs.

Mr Barton is among a small number of top police officers in the UK who have called for a major review of drugs policy.

'Tackle organised crime'

Danny Kushlick, of the Transform Drug Policy Foundation, welcomed Mr Barton's comments and said prohibition of drugs had been a "miserable failure".

Overseas drug laws

  • Uruguay's House of Representatives has passed a bill legalising cannabis. Under the proposed law, which still needs to be approved by the Senate, only the government could sell the drug
  • In Portugal, people caught with drugs can avoid punishment if they agree to treatment
  • Cannabis is illegal in the Netherlands but sale and use are tolerated in about 700 coffee shops

"We desperately need to shift the regime from a prohibitionist one to one of legal regulation," he said.

He said criminalising drugs had "gifted one of the largest commodity trades on earth to organised crime".

"It's an absolute no brainer for any government that is thinking responsibly about how best to regulate these things that they look after them and don't leave it in the hands of criminals," Mr Kushlick added.

The Home Office said drugs were illegal because they were dangerous.

It said the UK's approach on drugs was clear: "We must help individuals who are dependent by treatment, while ensuring law enforcement protects society by stopping the supply and tackling the organised crime that is associated with the drugs trade."

No major UK political party supports decriminalisation of class A drugs, though the Liberal Democrats said Britain's current approach was "costly and ineffective".

A Lib Dem spokeswoman said the government should consider other approaches used overseas and should "always base drugs policy on independent scientific advice", but did not say the party would decriminalise any currently banned drugs.

Labour said it would not decriminalise any banned recreational drugs, while the Green Party wants to make cannabis legal.

 

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  • Comment number 946.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 945.

    Prohibition doesn't work. As long as there is a demand someone will act to supply it, all criminalizing it does is ensure that no safety standards apply and the profits go to criminals--and any officials they pay off to look the other way. Tough enforcement sounds great but that only means those who can't afford a good lawyer go to jail while the wealthy buy their way out of trouble and party on.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 944.

    Can I just point out to ppl that the small number of ppl that have developed mental issues after using cannabis have a good chance of leading a normal life again thanks to cannabis! Some skunk is dangers to young ppl because of low levels of cbd. Cannabis is like snake oil except it actually works.
    Ps did u know ur body actually produces it so everyones a criminal :)

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 943.

    @941 PC trained "We live in a sham democracy"

    Not compared to much of the far east we don't, it's positively demarchist here compared to the likes of Singapore (opposition arrested, police state) Malaysia (only ethnic Malay people can do anything much), China, Indonesia, Myanmar....

    We got problems, but nothing like them!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 942.

    Are we thinking clearly? There are a myriad of substances we imbibe everyday with mind altering properties. So what exactly is it that gives rise to our disgust for drugs? And I am one of the apparently few for who there is relevance the question: "if god created it there must be a good use for it!" Ah, maybe that's it! The silence when we ask "if god created me there must be a good use for me?

  • Comment number 941.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 940.

    @939 lochinvar - "The only reason that the figures for drug taking keep going up is that our beloved judiciary don't come down heavy enough on drug pushers ..lets start learning a few lessons from the Far East"

    No.

    Sorry. Don't want to live in a country where people can be beheaded for something that doesn't hurt anyone else. Don't want to live in the sham democracies

    Maybe you should go there

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 939.

    The only reason that the figures for drug taking keep going up is that our beloved judiciary don't come down heavy enough on drug pushers ..lets start learning a few lessons from the Far East

  • Comment number 938.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 937.

    You can't win the war, when your own government is involved in the drug trade.......as is the case in the U.S.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 936.

    The problem is when there is scientific evidence that a particular drug like ecstasy (MDMA) has a very low risk, much lower than horse riding but then dismissed by politicians.

    In the 1990's most weekends about 2 million tablets were taken but less than 10 deaths in a year , which is less than asprin. Most of those deaths were only not directly caused by MDMA.

  • Comment number 935.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 934.

    Nice to see lots of progressive thought in this thread. It’s a pity that there isn’t likely to be a Government in this Country with the courage to do anything about it for the foreseeable future. Our bunch (all parties) of selfish, vote chasing, visionless automatons will make sure that the drug dealers won’t be joining the dole queue anytime soon.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 933.

    @932 cool_blue "What do you think would happen with cocaine, amphetamines and the other drugs?"

    Just what do you think is happening now?
    Oh that's right, criminal gangs, deaths from adulterants, people unable to get help for fear of being branded as criminals, innocents shot, countries destroyed!

    Even if you hate every last thing about drugs, the current policy makes no sense at all!

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 932.

    Decriminalising drugs will lead to more addiction and health problems. Acceptance is a from of endorsement! Look at cigarettes. We are just now seeing the repercussions of promoting tobacco products. What do you think would happen with cocaine, amphetamines and the other drugs ? Yep, the long term effects will mean that the healthcare industry has to support the damage done by the users.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 931.

    Only a user loses drugs

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 930.

    There has never been a proper debate on illegal drugs. Our politicians vie with each other for popularity in condemning their use, the police and healthcare professionals have to remain silent on the issue.
    And all this time crime syndicates prosper while the NHS and the prisons get to pick up the pieces.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 929.

    913.PC trained
    Your comments regarding this are purest sophistry.
    We have now had a multicultural society long enough to know the reality what you are suggesting.
    That kind of integration we can well do without.
    Many our drugs derive from asia. If we legalised them then farmers in Afghanistan would prove that Money beats religion every time...yes our druggies would defeat the Taliban!

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 928.

    This old debate surfaces again! I have worked in the drugs field (rehabilitation) for 29 years and we are still governed by outdated criminal justice policy that deals with what is essentially a health issue! Alcohol and tobacco cause 10 fold and more the harm illegal drugs ever will. An open debate would be a start, but it would take a brave politician!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 927.

    925. USAperson - "From the short bits of the concert - if the music is that bad - why go to the concert? The concert itself should give you a natural high - that is why Mozart's music lives on."

    Imagine the best orgasm you ever had.
    Now imagine it lasting four hours.

    Mozart and a glass of rioja can't compare.

 

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