Charities slam Drugs Bill for focus on crime at expense of treatment

    Drugs charities have accused the government of using the Drugs Bill
    as a “political vote winner” for the next election rather than the
    promotion of effective treatment and prevention measures.

    Critics are concerned that drugs legislation is being placed “at
    the centre” of the crime reduction agenda and warn that it will not
    lead to improved care.

    The Drugs Bill, which is waiting for a second reading, will
    introduce powers to test offenders on arrest and require those who
    test positive to undergo an assessment by a drugs worker.

    Other proposals aimed at drug dealers will give the police greater
    powers to detain those who swallow drugs, and put people on
    antisocial behaviour orders with drug misuse problems in
    treatment.

    A source from one charity said: “This is part of an election
    strategy to put drugs into the heart of the criminal justice
    manifesto instead
    of a broader social welfare and health agenda.”

    Charities including Drugscope and Turning Point are concerned the
    bill, unveiled last month in the Queen’s Speech, could be rushed
    too quickly through parliament, and are lobbying for alternative
    proposals.

    A spokeswoman for Drugscope said: “We do not feel that the measures
    in the Drugs Bill address the need to provide treatment to drug
    users in the community, who have not committed a crime and who can
    be prevented from committing a crime in the future by prompt access
    to treatment.”

    Charities also believe that the measures in the bill will not lead
    to an improvement in the success rate of referrals into treatment
    or a reduction in drop-out rates on drug testing and treatment
    orders (DTTOs).

    Recent figures from the National Audit Office showed an estimated
    34 per cent of drug users who receive treatment drop out within the
    first 12 weeks, with only 28 per cent completing a DTTO in
    2003.

    Charities are calling for the bill to include proposals on meeting
    complex needs such as mental health, better aftercare, greater use
    of heroin prescribing and more investment in staff training
    including GPs.

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