With Kate Moss’s recent persecution by, according to Robbie Williams, a drug-fuelled media for her cocaine indulgences, closely followed by Tory leader hopeful David Cameron refusing to reveal how hedonistic his university days were, the drug debate is in full swing again. And it remains as silly and as hypocritical as ever. As far as the government’s “War on Drugs” is concerned it’s time it pulled out.
As a mental health practitioner I would never underestimate the potential harm that drugs and other high-risk activities can inflict on some individuals. But with that you have to include cigarettes, alcohol and our love affair with cars (about 3,500 road deaths a year). The list of potentially dangerous activities is endless.
Most people would agree they have a fundamental right to take risks with their own body. Laws should be there to protect third parties from harm, period. Since the earliest days of civilisation every culture has had some kind of recreational drug use. It is a historical accident, rather than a measured examination of risk, that our legal drugs happen to be cigarettes and alcohol – perhaps, the most lethal of all.
For a professional working with a client with substance abuse, the criminalising of the activity makes the job more difficult and more dangerous for the client. Apart from living outside the law and the possibility of gaining a criminal record, when the production and distribution of drugs is put into the hands of the criminal underworld, the pills or powder are cut with unknown quantities of other substances that are cheap and sometimes lethal. For the buyer the strength of the drug, say heroin, is unknown so you have another potential fatality through accidental overdose. By making these drugs illegal, the government is contributing to the deaths of the people it is purporting to protect.
And it doesn’t work. A recent report led by Lord Birt and leaked to the Guardian revealed that low seizure rates (no more than 20 per cent) gave drug traffickers a profit of at least £4bn a year in the UK. It predicted that if the government was more successful in reducing drug availability the consequences could be to drive up prices on the street, leading to “high harm” users committing more crime to fund their habit.
Tell me, do the current drug laws make sense to anyone?
Nigel Leaney manages a mental health residential service