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November 23, 2004 - The Mirror (UK)

Shocking Cost Of Britain's Drug Addicts

By Oonagh Blackman

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EVERY drug addict is costing the taxpayer £35,455 a year, says a study compiled for the Government.

The report puts the number of problem hard drug users in England and Wales at 337,350.

And it says the total cost they inflict on the country - through the justice system, health and social costs - is £11.9billion a year. That works out at £35,455 per user.

Last night campaigners opposing Labour's hardline drugs war tactics said the public had to realise the staggering cost of prohibition policy.

Danny Kushlick, director of the Transform group, said: "A significant proportion of all resources flowing into the criminal justice system is now absorbed by the enforcement of prohibition. Burning this money would be of better use than fighting the drug war.

"It beggars belief that the Government prefers to leave this trade in the hands of organised criminals rather than control and regulate it itself."

The internal Government study on addiction cost was put together by academics at York University.

Breaking down the £11.9billion, it says the annual bill for policing, courts and prison terms is £10.6billion.

On health, the cost of GP visits, emergency care and mental health treatments is put at £1.3billion.

Other "social costs", such as the loss to the economy from addicts not working, are put at £63million

The report says the overall figure is an underestimate. It does not include the impact of "recreational" drug users, who take heroin, cocaine or other hard drugs and continue to hold down jobs.

The estimate on problem drug users could also be massively out.

Some studies put the total at more than half a million, which would take the annual cost to £17billion.

Nor is there data on the price of driving while under the influence of drugs, which is believed to cause thousands of accidents a year.

And the study did not weigh the effect on the children of addicts, who often have social problems.

The report - entitled The Economic and Social Costs of Class A Drug Use in England and Wales - makes clear that the expenditure caused by problem drug users is massive. Its work is "the first real attempt at assigning monetary value to a difficult problem to society".

Estimates were based on year 2000 statistics and relate to the "most reliable data available". Campaigner Mr Kushlick pointed out that illegal trading in drugs was said to be worth £6.6billion.

That meant billions could be raised in tax revenue if the process was legalised and regulated.

Home Office research also shows that tough policy on drugs is backfiring. Eighty per cent of addicts found guilty of a crime and sent into compulsory rehab under a Drug Testing and Treatment Order (DTTO) re-offend within two years.

Those not forced into rehab have a 71 per cent re-conviction rate. And the figure for those put on probation and given community sentences is best of all at 66 per cent.

Crime and drugs researcher Alex Stevens, who studied the statistics, said they indicated the Government's policy was not working.

Mr Stevens, of the University of Kent, said: "Drug testing and treatment orders are more expensive than voluntary treatment and may well be less effective.

"There should be more focused effort on improving availability and quality of drug treatment, and on reducing the reasons why people get into drugs and crime in the first place." He accused the Home Office of "skewing" the results of research to show the orders were working.

Mr Stevens added: "What we are seeing is not policy based on evidence, but evidence being shaped around the policy."

A senior Home Office spokesman said DTTOs were effective in delivering change. He added: "The target group of offenders is amongst the most difficult to work with.

"But the evidence shows that positive interventions can work to bring about a reduction in offending and drug misuse."

He said an evaluation showed 75 per cent fewer offences were committed while people were on a DTTO. They also reduced their spending on drugs by 90 per cent.

The spokesman accepted there was a need to get more offenders to complete treatment programmes.

The Blunkett Solution

By Oonagh Blackman

IF ever there was an argument for a different war on drugs it is to be found in Plymouth.

The local drug treatment service has clocked up stunning successes in weaning addicts off heroin and crack and slashing crime.

David Blunkett visited one of its day services earlier this month and told workers he was "very impressed". The Home Secretary and Home Office Minister Caroline Flint visited the Hamoaze House centre where new tactics are working.

One worker explained: "It was set up two years ago and it focuses on the person rather than the problem. It is not about being soft but about what gets results.

"There are really intensive efforts to help users build up basic life skills and teach them how to get back into society.

"There is no point in spending money on treatment for an addiction and then waving someone goodbye and leaving them to get on with it because they will just fall back into the same old ways.

"Here they are helped with sorting out housing, job prospects and with any area of their life which is chaotic like relationships.

"We're basically teaching them to be good citizens."

The clients are some of the most troublesome heroin and crack users in the city but they have responded to the softly-softly approach. Many of them have spent years stealing and mugging to pay for their fix.

The project took time to get going but the results are now coming in thick and fast.

In the last quarter alone crime has fallen by 17 per cent more than the previous year and police are giving the drug project credit for most of the fall.

One of the Drug Action Team co-ordinators said: "Acquisitive crime like mugging and burglary have dropped more than in any other parts of Devon and Cornwall.

"Most of these people are desperate for treatment and if they know they can come here and get help they are willing.

"Crucially, help has to be available at the point it is needed through more investment in community based services not purely at the point of arrest.

"But I admit there will always be a small minority, a tiny group, who will have to be forced into treatment but it is a much smaller group than the Government is planning to target."

Mr Blunkett also visited a residential centre where mums addicted to heroin and crack can live with their kids while they try to kick the habit.

The Home Secretary was warned plans to lock up more addicts would simply create more chaos and harm their children.

The Plymouth project also runs heroin prescribing which takes the drug market out of the hands of criminal gangs.

The control of supply by approved doctors linked to the treatment agency with the knowledge of the police and local authority also removes the need for addicts to steal to fund their habit. During the visit Mr Blunkett told workers he wanted more alternatives to the criminal justice system.

But the Government says it has found it difficult to get more doctors to prescribe heroin and cocaine.

The Blair Solution

By Oonagh Blackman

THERE were high hopes when the Derbyshire experiment kicked off.

Drug workers, police and academics decided to find out whether - as Tony Blair believes - tough measures would reduce levels of narcotics-related crime.

The county has about 10,000 heroin and crack users at any one time.

As in other areas of Britain, many of the worst high-harm users are to blame for a large proportion of offending, resorting to mugging, burglary and robbery to feed their habit.

Their desperation comes at a high price, with the average heroin addict spending an estimated £10,000 a year on the drug.

The profits made by criminals behind the trade are enormous.

In Derbyshire alone, suppliers rake in some £100million a year from Class A drugs.

Manchester University researchers knew there were widespread doubts about simply locking up addicts, then releasing them back on to the streets when they finished their sentences.

In many cities this strategy, despite costing the taxpayer billions of pounds, has been failing for years.

So the researchers established pilot projects in small, often rural, towns.

They were keen to discover whether the heavy-handed approach would work outside an urban setting.

Huge police resources were thrown at towns such as Matlock to swoop on street dealers and drug dens.

The Drug Market Project increased surveillance on addicts known to be behind a high amount of drug-related crime. Police, drug agencies and the local authority worked together. Even in small towns, however, the experiment failed.

One researcher said: "There were huge numbers of arrests and many people got sentenced and jailed, but that was about it.

"The supply of heroin didn't seem to go down and neither did levels of crime. And if it cannot work in small, semi-rural Derbyshire towns, it cannot work anywhere else.

"Now New Labour is going to take coercion to the edge of civil liberties.

"Treatment works but it has to be a softer approach.

"More Government-controlled prescription will work, but not the heavy-handed tactics of which we're going to see more and more."

That is not what Government ministers want to hear, however, as they unveil their flagship Drugs Bill today

Tougher police powers to arrest more addicts and force them into treatment are going to be announced.

Professor Howard Parker, involved in the Derbyshire project, has urged the Government to have more patience and expand treatment services.

He warns against tougher moves to criminalise more addicts.

And the war on drugs is wasting taxpayers' cash and only just managing to keep the lid on the problem, he argues. Drugs charity Turning Point said: "Often, projects just focus on people's drug problems in a heavy-handed way rather than looking at the big picture.

"That means helping them do something about housing, job prospects and getting their lives back on track. That's what gets results."

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