With punitive measures ineffective in tackling drug problems , senior police are calling for a fresh approach
The present approach to drugs has almost completely failed . It ’ s costing a fortune to the taxpayer . It ’ s causing a great deal of misery , and we seem to be locked into a pattern of behaviour that we ’ re having a great deal of difficulty escaping from .’ David Jamieson , retiring police and crime commissioner ( PCC ) for the West Midlands told the Drugs , Alcohol and Justice Cross-Party Parliamentary Group of the growing successes of his region ’ s approach , which had focused on ‘ reducing crime , reducing harm , but also reducing the cost of crime ’.
‘ Every three days somebody in our area was dying of drug poisoning – needless deaths of young people and again misery for the families ,’ he said .
Eight recommendations had been taken forward from a summit held in 2018 , with the aim of spending more effectively to reduce harm ( see box ). One of the best measures to be put in place , he said , was working with Cranstoun on the Divert programme – referring people with small amounts of class A drugs in their possession into treatment instead of introducing them to the ‘ costly and damaging ’ criminal justice system .
There was ‘ more of a system approach ’ now to giving people an alternative to custody , explained Megan Jones , West Midlands PCC ’ s head of policy , with multi-agency
teams working with offenders and families . The success stories in rehabilitating prolific offenders had earned support and investment from the business community and the three family courts were resulting in much more positive outcomes .
Colleague Til Shaw added that the initiatives to engage with people in custody were proving effective , working closely with probation and courts to increase requirements for alcohol treatment and drug rehabilitation , which were reducing reoffending rates .
The next step was to tackle the root cause of drug and alcohol problems and provide wraparound services , including housing and mental health support , she said , as well as looking at what they could offer for under-18s .
The pre-arrest diversion scheme was an extremely valuable way to enhance young people ’ s opportunities , explained Dan Gordon , also from the team . More than 500 young people – most of whom were in possession of cannabis – had been referred in the first three months , and further initiatives were underway to tie schemes to education , to prevent exclusion from school .
Diversion was a ‘ key component ’ to doing things differently , said Jason Harwin , deputy constable of Lincolnshire Police and National Police Chiefs Council lead for drugs . ‘ It ’ s not just about enforcement – far too many people are dying from illicit drugs on our streets ,’ he said . ‘ We need to be doing something different and recognising that police are part of the solution … we don ’ t want to criminalise people .’ The way forward was to get people into services quickly , which would also contribute to making the wider community safer .
There were an estimated 300,000 registered heroin and crack users according to PHE , but these numbers were not representative because criminalisation hid drug use away , said Jason Kew , chief inspector at Thames Valley Police . ‘ That creates stigma and stigma kills . We need to do something about this now ,’ he said .
This involved re-evaluating the role of policing in relation to possession , particularly where the threat of arrest was not acting as a deterrent . Young people , particularly
RECOMMENDATIONS between the ages of 16 and 24 , were going to take risks , ‘ like we all did ’. The situation called for us to ‘ be honest and take a public health approach to keeping people safe ’.
The other key point was that drug services tended to see the people with the most ‘ problematic ’ drug use , ‘ but we need to work out a way of reaching people drug services don ’ t normally see ’ – the people who were living with or developing drug use , who weren ’ t known to any services .
With the highest rate of drugrelated deaths on record and as home to a third of the drug-related deaths in Europe , the UK needed to ‘ look at drug policy differently and urgently , and create ways to avoid stigma ,’ he said .
We had an academic evidence base and the tools for a ‘ humanist health-based approach ’ to work in a trauma-informed way and offer help instead of arrest , he said . We needed to be ‘ bold and brave ’ and work smarter , to put the proceeds from crime back into health . DDN
1 . Diverting people away from the criminal justice system 2 . Regional Drug Interventions Programme ( DIP ) 3 . Heroin-assisted treatment 4 . Drugs early warning programme 5 . Safety testing of drugs in night time districts or festivals 6 . Naloxone provision 7 . Drug consumption rooms ( DCRs )
8 . Taking money from organised criminals to improve drug services
14 • DRINK AND DRUGS NEWS • APRIL 2021 WWW . DRINKANDDRUGSNEWS . COM